I think we can all agree: Air is pretty cool. I mean, I’ve always liked it. Sure, it can get lost in the shuffle amongst life’s sexier necessities such as tuna melts and whiskey, but air—and more specifically breathing—makes the consumption of both of those things (and many more of life’s essential pleasures) possible and perhaps more enjoyable. But did you know that air can even extend your life? It’s true. Researchers from Harvard and Brigham Young say so.
It would seem our newfound desire to preserve our environment is paying dividends. A recent study published in the Jan. 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by members of the two prestigious universities examined the life expectancies of residents of 51 different U.S. cities. The good news is that we’re living longer. All of us. Probably even the people you don’t like. In fact, on average, we are living up to three years longer. According to the study, you can attribute five months of that extra three years you’ll be living to clean air. The study’s lead author, Brigham Young’s C. Arden Pope III writes, “We find that we are getting a substantial return on our investments in improving our air quality.” At least there are some investments that are paying dividends in these difficult financial times. The study shows that current particulate pollution levels are dropping from those of the ’80s and ’90s, falling on average from 21 to 14 micrograms per cubic meter.
Perhaps you’d like to take full advantage of this study’s findings. Hey, why wouldn’t you? Five months may not seem like a long time, but if you’re industrious, you can get a lot done in that time. Five months is almost an entire baseball season (for most teams, an A’s season is usually over in two). And, if you’re getting all that good, clean air in your smoke-free lungs (you have quit, right?), those could be five months of quality and quantity. You’re probably wondering (just play along, OK?), “Which American cities have the best air?” I was going to ask the same thing!
How about Cheyenne, Wyo.? According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air: 2008,” it’s the cleanest city (in terms of year-round particle pollution) in the U.S. It’s nice, too. I drove through it when I moved to California. I spent four lovely hours there, on a beautiful weekend afternoon, and I believe I only encountered one other person wandering the streets: another tourist from New Jersey.
Cheyenne may not be your speed. You may still have a pulse. But if you’re looking to make the most of your extra five months of life, you should probably leave California. According to the same ALA report, California cities dominated the most polluted lists, with Los Angeles topping the most ozone and year-round particle pollution lists, and Visalia, Fresno and Bakersfield also appearing in the top 5. Sacramentans shouldn’t get too smug with those results, though. The River City ranked 6 and 8 in the most ozone and short-term particle pollution lists, respectively. However, if you’re a California-for-life type, there are a few in-state options: Redding (#15), San Luis Obispo (#19) and Salinas (#10, and a great town if you’re a head of lettuce) all made it to the list of top 25 cleanest U.S. cities.
My suggestion? Hop on I-80 and head northeast to Reno. It came in at number 20 on the ALA’s cleanest U.S. cities list. You could spend your extra five months of life wrestling with one-armed bandits, eating cheap prime rib and doubling down at $5 black jack. Just try to find yourself a smoke-free casino.