People from other places give South Florida a lot of grief. It’s hot, overpopulated and driving to Miami can seem like a cosmic joke. But there’s one detail some may overlook: The people that live here are more healthy than most Americans.
And it’s not a fluke. Between an influx of nutritious food options and weather that supports outdoor activities year-round, South Florida is one of the healthiest regions people can live in.
In fact, cities including Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Pembroke Pines continue to make multiple Healthiest Cities in America lists year after year. This year, Fort Lauderdale broke the top 50 in a story by research website WalletHub.
Jenna Schofel, a trauma ICU nurse at Broward Health, says it’s for good reason.
“I think one of the things that makes Fort Lauderdale an ideal place for fitness enthusiasts is the weather,” Schofel says. “With year-round sunshine, it’s hard to come up with an excuse not to go on your daily run.”
Schofel herself exercises by doing CrossFit three times a week and running on the beach on her days off. “Not having a gym membership isn’t an excuse here,” she says. “Watersports such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are great for your shoulders, abdominal muscles and posterior chain muscles. There are also quite a few parks in the Fort Lauderdale area with outdoor gym equipment and trails to get a good circuit workout in.”
Those parks are part of a push by the City of Fort Lauderdale to enhance community members’ outdoor experience, according to Mayor Dean Trantalis.
“Outdoor circuit training has been a part of the Fort Lauderdale landscape for quite a while,” Trantalis says. “And we see more and more people benefiting from that. As (a city), we try to increase the availability of sports fields, courts, parks — things we can do year-round that I think people who live here realize the benefits of.”
The mayor himself visits the gym after work in addition to riding his bike and playing tennis in the winter.
“When I spend time up north, I’m less inclined to take advantage of all the options I have in Florida like biking and running,” Trantalis says. “There’s an emergence of those physical activities here that you wouldn’t likely see anywhere else.”
Korin Sutton is a South Florida-based master fitness trainer, health coach and professional bodybuilder.
“Here in Florida, there are many things to do to stay healthy and be fit because we have beaches, bright sunny weather and tons of tropical and exotic foods to choose from,” Sutton says. “Being healthy and fit is not hard, especially here in Florida.”
Sutton, a longtime vegan, credits part of his healthy lifestyle to the amount of healthy food options in town.
“I am able to build muscle to be healthy, so if I can find restaurants and foods for myself then I know anyone can do the same,” he says. Sutton says being vegan alone isn’t what makes him healthy, but going to restaurants that don’t put out heavily processed or fried foods means consuming less saturated fat and cholesterol.
“Nutrition plays an 80 percent role for us getting to our fitness and health goals. We cannot work out through a bad diet.”
One Fort Lauderdale restaurant that has gotten plenty of love from Sutton — who has more than 45,000 followers on Instagram — is Green Bar & Kitchen, a vegan cafe on 17th Street.
When Elena Pezzo’s brother suffered an anoxic brain injury, he was left in a coma for seven months. The family refused hospital-provided food and “juiced him back to health,” she says. That’s when Pezzo had the idea to bring healthier options to the general public.
“When we witnessed this miracle, we decided our goal and mission in life was just to get everyone happier and healthier, and boom, Green Bar & Kitchen was born,” Pezzo says. “We chose Fort Lauderdale because we felt a void and we wanted a place we would love to go to and want to chill at for hours. The GBK deck reminds me of if Brooklyn and Fort Laudy had a baby.”
Green Bar & Kitchen, which has been open for six years, has been lauded for its clever takes on classics like mac and cheese and crab cakes. It’s also one of the places in South Florida where you can get the coveted Impossible Burger — a plant-based patty that sizzles, cooks and acts like meat for recovering carnivores.
“Most of our clients are not vegan; they are carnivores looking to just incorporate more plants and veggies into their diet,” Pezzo says. “We just want to show everyone that eating plant-based can be delicious. We are here for the community and are constantly pushing the bar because we want to provide the best.”
And they’re not the only ones.
New kid on the block Vegan Fine Foods, a completely plant-based gourmet market and deli, opened in April. Its founder, Steven Smith, has been vegan for 20 years. The Florida Atlantic University professor switched to a plant-based diet because of the stress that came along with earning two postgraduate degrees.
“South Florida has always been a leader of many trends. Lifestyle, fashion and fitness are at the top of the list. Healthy eating goes together with all these trends,” Smith says. “South Florida is trending up in the healthy plant-based eating category with restaurants and groceries offering vegan options. Vegan Fine Foods has taken this trend to the next level by offering the only vegan grocery, café, deli in Florida, one of only a few in the entire country.”
Smith plans to expand the business by opening Vegan Fine Body, specializing in selling vegan and cruelty-free vitamins, skin care, personal care products and supplements next door.
But both Sutton and Schofel agree, it’s not just what a person puts into their body, it’s what they get out of it.
“Living here in South Florida is one of the best places to live because we have so many things to do,” Sutton says. “Exercise and staying active can help individuals lose fat. In America many individuals live a sedentary lifestyle and this can hinder us when it comes to fat loss.”
To counter this, Sutton recommends trying two Florida-friendly activities: high-intensity interval training (known as HIIT) and stand-up paddleboarding (known as SUP).
“Running outside is a great cardio exercise that helps with our cardiovascular system and it helps burn calories as well — especially running on the beach,” he says. “The best type of cardio to do is high-intensity interval training.” Sutton says a good example would be sprinting for 30 seconds, a light jog for 30 to 60 seconds and then repeat. He recommends beginners start on a grassy field for 15 to 20 minutes in early morning or late evening. Advanced runners can try the same technique in the sand at the beach.
Sutton says paddleboarding is a great full-body exercise for people who don’t like working out at a gym or need a change of pace.
“Here in Florida, we have tons of beaches and waterways where people can take advantage of being outdoors,” he says. “Going outside and doing a fun sport like stand-up paddleboarding can be fun, very active and you can burn fat at the same time.”
Local spots like Sunrise Paddleboarding — which was recognized by USA Today as one of the best places to paddleboard — has almost 20 different paddleboard options for visitors including a SUP clinic, paddleboard yoga sessions and paddleboard fitness classes.
Not to mention, it’s a good way to stay swimsuit-season ready — which is basically year-round down here.
“Awareness of body image is another influence on South Florida’s health scene,” Schofel says. “Since we don’t have the whole ‘sweater weather’ concept like some northern states, we have to fit into our same shorts, tank tops and bathing suits year-round. I think this keeps people more accountable.”
So maybe South Florida really is hot. But at least it’s true in two forms of the word.
No Gym Membership? No Problem.
According to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, outdoor circuit training has been beneficial to community members “for quite a while.” Here’s where to find free outdoor workout stations across Fort Lauderdale.
Rev. Samuel Delevoe Memorial Park
2520 NW 6th St.
This outdoor exercise area has dozens of workout stations available, allowing 23 people to work out at the same time. It’s part of a countywide initiative called Destination Fitness.
Riverwalk near Huizenga Plaza
32 E Las Olas Blvd.
Work out in the heart of downtown while watching the boats going by on the New River.
1150 G. Harold Martin Dr.
In addition to outdoor workout equipment, the city’s large urban park offers gravel walking and jogging paths.
Gore Betz Park
1604 SW 9th Ave.
Like its counterpart at the beach, this calisthenic gym features a mix of bars and benches.
Fort Lauderdale Beach Park
1100 Seabreeze Blvd.
This massive wooden fitness gym features a mix of pull-up bars and incline benches.
Vegan Doesn’t Mean “Just a Salad”
For bodybuilder and life coach Korin Sutton, a healthy diet and veganism went hand in hand because he knew that meant less saturated fats and zero cholesterol. But plant-based doesn’t mean rabbit food. Here’s a look at some Fort Lauderdale-area vegan spots. To find more based on your location, Sutton recommends using the app Happy Cow.
Green Bar & Kitchen
1075 SE 17th St., greenbarkitchen.com
Known for its: burgers, including housemade varieties as well as The Impossible Burger.
3433 Griffin Rd., clovermintcafe.com
Known for its: avocado fries and a shrimp po’ boy you’ll think is the real thing.
2400 Wilton Dr., greenkafemanor.com
Known for its: panini melts.
(Coming soon), eatpacpastries.com
It’s Always Sunny in Florida
A look at the benefits of living in the Sunshine State.
No light therapy necessary here. As noted by healthline.com, sunlight and darkness cue different hormones to be released into the brain. Sunlight exposure releases serotonin – a mood booster – while darkness triggers melatonin. Not enough sun can mean a drop in serotonin levels, which can lead to depression. It’s why, according to WebMD, forms of seasonal depression are less common in places where it’s sunny all year. For people that aren’t so lucky, light therapy is often used to mimic sunlight.