Cities that make you age too fast

Knoxville, Tenn.
Nathan C. Fortner,Wikimedia Commons

Feeling old before your time? That's likely if you live in Knoxville, Tenn., or so says a recent analysis of aging data by RealAge.com, a website that aims to gauge your age based on your lifestyle, rather than years lived.

Among the 50 major metropolitan areas that the site studied, Knoxville ranked the city where residents aged the fastest, largely as the result of drinking, smoking, poor employment and high stress rates. RealAge officials emphasize that just because your city is unhealthy doesn't mean that you have to follow suit, but other research by behavioral psychologists indicates that you'll be fighting a tougher battle if you're surrounded by bad influences.

"Even if you live in Knoxville, you can do everything in your power to keep yourself in good shape," Dr. Keith Roach, RealAge's chief medical officer, said in an interview. "But there's no doubt that there is a tendency for healthy or unhealthy behaviors to rub off on your friends and relatives."

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While healthy cities tended to be concentrated in the West and Northeast, the South had the highest showing among cities where lifestyle and behavioral choices were most likely to make residents age far too fast. The site blamed a higher propensity to smoke, drink excessively and eat in ways that encouraged obesity, high blood pressure and horrible cholesterol levels. 

The 10 major metropolitan areas where residents grow old the fastest are:

1. Knoxville, Tenn.

2. Louisville, Ky.

3. Memphis, Tenn

4. Oklahoma City, Okla.

5. Indianapolis, Ind.

6. Greensboro, N.C.

7. Nashville, Tenn.

8. Greenville, S.C.

9. Cincinnati, Ohio

10. Columbus, Ohio

Like the cities that were most likely to help you stay young, the places that make residents age too fast got their bottom-of-the-barrel ranking for a variety of reasons. Louisville, for example, rated among the worst populations in the country when it came to cholesterol and alcohol use. Memphis ranked poorly as the result of high rates of diabetes and stress. wIndianapolis rated well for social networks, but also had a lot of smokers and drinkers.

How much does chronological age vary from your "real age" according to the website's health test? For most people, not a lot. The majority of Americans act their age no matter how it's measured, Roach says. But when you do everything right -- or wrong -- your real age can vary a lot, he said.

The site has some 50-year-olds who have reduced their "RealAge" through diet, exercise and healthy behaviors by as much as 12 years. On the other end of the spectrum, bad behavior can add decades. Some obese 50-year-olds have so harmed their cholesterol and blood sugar levels that they register 30 and even 35 years older than the age on their drivers licenses, Roach says.

Want to calculate your real age, based on the site's formula? Have your latest blood pressure and cholesterol readings handy, and then go to the test here.

And see our related post, 10 best cities to stay young.