America’s 10 Sharpest, Smartest Cities

Based on a formula by leading cognition experts, we determined the 10 sharpest and smartest cities, looking at education level, eating and exercise habits, health conditions, and sociability.

By Karen Cicero from Reader's Digest Magazine | October 2012
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    1. San Francisco, California

    Why it's sharp: Farmers’ markets
    The City by the Bay has 30-plus venues, which helps ensure that residents fill up on plenty of brain-healthy foods. “Antioxidants from a diet high in fruits and vegetables may protect brain cells from the wear and tear of aging,” says Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center in Los Angeles. The city also has lower than average obesity rates; one 2011 study found that being overweight or obese raised dementia risk by 80 percent.

    2. Arlington, Virginia

    Why it's sharp: Above-average education rates
    Seven in ten residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree, far above the national average of 30 percent. Education is correlated with brain health: One Neurology study found that older adults with at least a high school education were three times likelier to avoid cognitive decline than people with less education. This may explain why death rates from Alzheimer’s here are much lower than average.

    3. Fremont, California

    Why it's sharp: Low smoking rate; and high creativity levels
    Just under 10 percent of people here smoke, about half the national average (it’s linked to higher rates of dementia and stroke). This Silicon Valley city is also known for creative thinking (one in 100 people received a patent in 2010). Whether you invent a search engine or learn a new language, lifelong learning boosts brain cell connections.

    4. Seattle, Washington

    Why it's sharp: Nearly everyone exercises
    “Move it or lose it” is the motto here, where 83 percent of residents—one of the highest rates in the country—are active. By increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise is medicine for the mind. One University of Pittsburgh study found that walking for 45 minutes three times a week helped reverse age-related memory loss.

    5. Madison, Wisconsin

    Why it's sharp: Diabetes prevention programs
    The sweet news: Adults in Madison are much less likely than the national average to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which attacks the brain by damaging blood vessels. One Japanese study showed that type 2 diabetes increased the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by 35 percent. The city targets obesity—a big contributor to diabetes—with programs that encourage physical activity and access to healthy food from farmers’ markets.

    6. Portland, Oregon

    Why it's sharp: Biking; and seasonal eating
    With 320 miles of bike lanes, 21,000 rides and races hosted annually, and programs that promote biking to work, Portland ranks high for brain-bolstering exercise. Another healthy habit of residents: seasonal eating. Many restaurant menus here change weekly, and variety matters for brain health. A Swedish study found that antioxidants in different fruits and veggies work synergistically to prevent blood vessel damage linked to stroke and memory loss.

    7. Salt Lake City, Utah

    Why it's sharp: Libraries
    With library circulation rates nearly double the national average, bookworms here read their way to sharper minds. Mayo Clinic research shows that activities that require thinking and concentration lower the odds of mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

    8. Scottsdale, Arizona

    Why it's sharp: Parks
    This city has 72 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents, one of the highest rates in the country. “Being outdoors is a great mood lift,” says memory expert Cynthia Green, PhD. One study found that people who live within a half mile of green space are 20 percent less likely to be depressed, and research links depression to higher Alzheimer’s risk.

    9. St. Paul, Minnesota

    Why it's sharp: Community
    City dwellers are never far from a stimulating social environment, with more than 30 recreation and community centers, one of the nation’s highest per capita rates. Stimulating conversations fire up the brain’s frontal lobe, the area responsible for decision making. And social networks help protect against brain decline, research from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center shows, possibly by strengthening nerve cell connections.

    10. Asheville, North Carolina

    Why it's sharp: Spirituality; and volunteerism
    The county’s 382 churches helped this city’s top ranking. One Canadian study suggested that being spiritual may slow cognitive decline, thanks to increased sociability, less stress, and more happiness. Volunteering also boosts Asheville’s brain trust: Last year, volunteers in this 83,000- person city supplied clothes and food to some 41,000 in need.

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    Your Comments

    • Karina Suazo Mellado

      Sorry Reader’s Digest, but I only saw cities from The United States of NORTH AMERICA, if you look at a map, you’ll see AMERICA is divided into Three different sections: NORTH AMERICA with 3 countries in it, Canada, United States and Mexico, CENTRAL AMERICA,:Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc, and SOUTH AMERICA: Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, etc. YOUR MAIN POINT IS “TEACHING” THEN BE CONSECUENT TO YOUR PREACHINGS: THE UNITED STATES ARE NOT AMERICA, THEY ARE ONE COUNTRY (GREAT AS IT IS, BUT ONLY A COUNTRY) Hope you learn a litttle geography. Thanks

    • Robert

      I like San Francisco and I do believe that it fosters an environment that attracts smart people. Similarly I am familiar with few other cities on the list and I do agree that many of these cities have a sharp population. Unfortunately, I am appalled at the quality of the article and how the findings were presented. The formula used is not discussed anywhere. The author mentions cognitive experts in a fashion similar to infomercials stating a product is “number one doctor recommended”. Regardless of the lack of supporting facts, let’s look at what the author is actually saying about what makes these cities sharp.

      Let’s start with San Francisco. Apparently the fact that it has “30-plus venues, which helps ensure that residents fill up on plenty of brain-healthy foods” earns it a top spot. Since when has a number of healthy food stores and a sharpness of a city been correlated in any meaningful scientific way? Unless there is a supporting evidence that backs this up, I will dismiss this as a junk science. Similarly, low obesity in a city cannot be correlated to intellect, unless of course, there has been a groundbreaking scientific discovery that everyone except for Karen Cicero has been kept away from.

      This list goes on and on, citing similarly irrelevant factors. Let’s look at Fremont — the number of patent filed earns it a third spot. This is laughable. Many people would argue that patents hinder innovation and therefore diminish the intellect of a city. There was an article in The Economist not that long ago that made a strong connection between patents and the lack of innovation. 

      I would caution the readers not to take these lists as anything other than an expression of opinion based on very loose, perhaps non-existent, scientific foundation. 

      • Robert #2

        There’s so much out there on the benefits of healthy eating and excercise on the brain.. Not to mention the sickness and diseases that are caused by unhealthy foods and all the toxins some people put through their bodies.. I’ve seen people clear up lingering acne problems and cure diabetes by switching to all natural foods..

        I waaay would agree that patents hinder innovation, but on a scale wider than a single city.. It still takes original thought to accommodate the creation of a patent, and I believe that’s more a sign of intellect than ignorance.. 

        I just take this stuff as opinion too but it isn’t groundless..

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O6G67G774GP5DNMSK5FUXIH6Z4 Southlight

      In Minnesota, it gets so cold that they would have to stay close by. Asheville is nice, but has gotten to the point of being another San Fran, as far as weirdos and flower children…

    • Ilovedivi

      I stopped reading when San Francisco was #1. You realize these people keep electing Pelosi, right?

    • Vbirmingha

      I hate these pages because when you try to see the second or third page it just goes blank

    • Vbirmingha

      I hate these pages because when you try to see the second or third page it just goes blank

    • Vbirmingha

      I hate these pages because when you try to see the second or third page it just goes blank

      • UpdateNerd

         You need to upgrade your Flash plugin.

        • Oneidiot2manyhere

          I don’t think his city is figuring out anywhere near the top 100?

        • Guest

          how ?