Want to get away from it all? These cities offer shorter workdays, a low cost of living, sunshine and healthier living.
1. Salt Lake City
Zen factor: Plenty of jobs, low cost of living
Stress factor: High property crime rate
In this mountain-dotted city, there is little for residents to stress about: unemployment is low, commutes are short and the homes are relatively cheap.
Less than 13% of metro area residents live in poverty. Plus, living costs are affordable, meaning residents are able to get a lot more for their money.
But that’s not all. Salt Lake residents take less time getting to work (an average of 23 minutes each way), face far less traffic on their way in and spend less time working once they’re there — giving them more time to hit the slopes, spend time with family or enjoy the fresh mountain air.
“There is a very healthy balance between work and family life and recreational life,” said Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker. “People prize other parts of their lives, besides just their work.”
The one thing working against this metro area: property crime rates are among the highest for major metro areas. Becker said a “high percentage” of the property crimes are related to drug offenses.
2. Rochester, NY
Zen factor: Shorter work hours, easy commutes
Stress factor: Unemployment
If you don’t mind shoveling a lot of snow, living in Rochester could help keep the stress at bay.
Work hours are shorter than average and — at only 21 minutes each way — commutes are, too.
“You can get just about anywhere in 15 minutes,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.
Thanks to moderate living costs, most people can afford to live here. And since families are smaller than average, there tends to be fewer mouths to feed and less college tuition to worry about.
Still, the area has struggled with unemployment, which Warren said the city is trying to tackle through work training and other programs. In May, the Obama administration said Rochester would take part in an initiative aimed at bringing new manufacturing jobs to the city.
3. Raleigh, NC
Zen factor: Low cost of living, plenty of jobs
Stress factor: Long work hours
State capital and home to North Carolina State University, Raleigh offers plenty of jobs, low crime and a great quality of life.
The city is part of the Research Triangle, which generates lots of tech, medical and academic jobs. In fact, Raleigh’s unemployment rate has hovered around a low 5%.
Despite the influx of workers, home prices have remained fairly stable. At a median of $215,000, homes are just above the national average.
There’s also an extensive network of greenways and public parks and the city is only a few hours away from both beaches and mountains.
“It’s an easy-to-live-in climate,” said Adrienne Cole, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. “It creates a very low-stress, healthy environment for people.”
Of course, no place is perfect. Raleigh’s workers spend more time on the job than those in most other major metro areas.
Zen factor: Low crime, plenty of jobs
Stress factor: Heavy traffic
The winters may be a bear, but Minneapolis’ residents enjoy a quality of life that’s hard to beat.
Less than 11% of the city’s residents live below the poverty line, one of the lowest rates of all 55 metro areas that CNNMoney analyzed. Unemployment is also low, due in part to a number of large Fortune 500 companies, ranging from Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY) to Hormel Foods (HRL) and UnitedHealth Group (UNH).
“The biggest stress point for someone is, ‘Do I have a job?’ and here, most people are able to find work,” said Todd Klingel, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Residents feel pretty great, too. Only 11% of residents surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control said they were in fair or poor health, and smoking is less common than in many other cities.
That could be helped by the region’s many state-of-the-art health care facilities, including the nearby Mayo Clinic, as well as a wealth of parks and bike paths.
But there are some downsides: Like many Midwestern cities, binge drinking is more common here. And commuters often face traffic headaches thanks to above-average congestion.
“The region is growing quickly and our transportation infrastructure has not kept up,” Klingel said. Though he noted a new light rail network could help.
5. Richmond, VA
Zen factor: Plenty of jobs, shorter work hours
Stress factor: Unhealthy lifestyles
A hub of financial and state government jobs, Richmond’s unemployment rate is among the lowest of all 55 metro areas. As a result, less than 12% of residents live below the poverty line.
And even though there are plenty of jobs, work’s not too much of a grind for most residents. Workers spend less time getting to work and fewer hours on the job once they’re there.
“We’ve had a lot of people who have moved here from more stressful cities comment on… the light traffic and how their tab at dinner is a lot lower than they’re expecting,” said Lesley Bruno, marketing director at the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce.
One downside: residents aren’t in the best shape — thanks to an above-average smoking rate and lower-than-average exercise rate. But the city has been working to change that with the mayor’s “Healthy Richmond” campaign, which promotes active lifestyles among residents, Bruno said. There is also a growing cycling community in the city.
6. Buffalo, NY
Zen factor: Shorter work hours, quick commutes
Stress factor: Fewer sunny days
Buffalo is more than just spicy wings and cold winters.
The second city in upstate New York to make CNNMoney’s list of Least Stressed Out Cities, Buffalo ranked the absolute best for avoiding work-related stress. Not only are work hours among the shortest, the commutes are the quickest of all 55 metro areas and divisions we analyzed.
Below-average crime rates and moderate living costs are additional pluses.
“You don’t have to work as much to afford the essentials,” said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Buffalo Mayor’s Office for Strategic Planning. “You can spend more time on leisure.”
A self-described festival city, Buffalo provides plenty of opportunities to unwind, from annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to a festival honoring the area’s legendary chicken wings.
Living here does mean doing without many sunny days though; they happen less than half of the year.
7. Hartford, CT
Zen factor: Shorter work hours, quick commute times
Stress factor: High cost of living
Only a few hours away from the Most Stressed Out City of New York, Hartford paints a far different picture.
Workers here spend much less time on the job, with an average work week that’s among the country’s shortest. Commute times are also shorter than average, and traffic isn’t much of an issue.
Another plus: There are a variety of job opportunities in industries ranging from financial services and insurance to health care.
“If you take a job here, you can be a big fish in a small pond,” said John Shemo, vice president and director economic development at the Metro Hartford Alliance.
Maybe because it’s home to many of the country’s biggest insurers, residents are also healthier; only 14% report being in fair or poor health, compared to nearly a quarter of residents in less healthy places, according to a CDC survey.
But residents do struggle with the high cost of living, including above-average prices for housing, transportation and utilities, among others.
Zen factor: Low cost of living, low crime
Stress factor: Unhealthy lifestyles
Pittsburgh’s diehard sports fans may be on edge when rooting for their favorite team, but its residents don’t have much else to stress over.
Once a steel town, the city is now home to a variety of industries, from financial services to energy companies. It’s also home to many colleges and universities. In fact, employment in the region is at an all-time high, said Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of corporate relations at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
And with shorter work hours and average commute times, work doesn’t take over peoples’ lives here.
“There is great balance to Pittsburgh,” Flanagan said. “It’s big enough to have a world class symphony and major professional sports teams… but at the same time it’s small enough that you can have all those things without the hassles.”
Only 12% of area residents live in poverty, and crime rates are among the lowest of all 55 places CNNMoney analyzed. Plus, affordable home prices and other expenses mean incomes stretch further.
But people who live here don’t lead the healthiest lifestyles. Nearly a quarter of residents are smokers, according to a CDC survey, while many don’t get much exercise. Flanagan said there are efforts to change that, such as a planned bike share program.
9. San Jose, CA
Zen factor: Quick commute times, healthy lifestyles
Stress factor: High cost of living
For those who can afford to live in this pricey city, life can be pretty carefree.
Home to a wealth of well-paying tech jobs, San Jose’s poverty rate is remarkably low at less than 11%. While workers spend an average amount of time on the job, many spend less time getting there compared to the other metro areas CNNMoney analyzed.
Residents are healthy here too, with above-average exercise rates and below-average smoking rates, according to a CDC survey. It’s no wonder, thanks to a wealth of green space and sunny weather throughout much of the year.
“We have miles and miles of creek trails for bike riding and jogging and all sorts of other types of physical activities that people do to stay healthy here,” said Michelle McGurk, a spokeswoman for Mayor Chuck Reed.
One thing residents do stress about: steep housing costs. The median home price rose to $631,000 in the first quarter of this year, more than four times the national median of $195,000.
10. Sacramento, CA
Zen factor: Shorter work hours, healthy lifestyles
Stress factor: Unemployment
Residents in this capital city take their health seriously, which helps keep medical worries (and bills) at bay.
Less than 14% of residents are smokers, according to CDC surveys, and few residents reported that they were in fair or poor health. Most are physically active as well, perhaps motivated by the city’s miles of bike paths, nearby mountains and the plentiful sunshine Sacramento receives throughout the year.
Luckily, workers have time to enjoy the outdoors, too. The metro area has the shortest average work week of all 55 metro areas. Commutes are short, too.
“You can get to and from work with relative ease and without spending literally hours on the road each day,” said Sacramento City Manager John Shirey.
So what do residents have to stress about? Unemployment remains stuck at more than 8%, in part due to the local economy’s reliance on government and construction jobs, which were both battered during the recession.
Sacramento is attempting to change that with its “Next Economy” plan, which is aimed at diversifying the local economy by attracting new employers in areas such as agricultural sciences and research, Shirey said.