The ACSM’s Annual American Fitness Index has just been released and now we know what the top 100 fittest cities are in the U.S. And…. the winner is…. Arlington, VA. Congratulations! Sorry Los Angelenos, we barely make it to the top 50 (head scratch). When I moved to L.A. from NY (a long time ago), I thought was moving to the fitness capitol of the world. I guess it just looked that way on TB! Kudos also go to Minneapolis, MN for coming in a close 2nd.
This is the 11th annual Fitness Index released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Anthem Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Anthem, Inc. To create the list, the ACSM evaluated America’s 100 largest cities using 33 health behaviors (i.e. getting enough sleep, not smoking, exercising, eating fruits and veggies, etc), chronic diseases and community infrastructure indicators. The Fitness Index takes into consideration what people are doing individually to get and stay healthy, as well as what the environment provides like parks, playgrounds, bike paths and recreation centers.
With a score of 77.7, the health-minded residents of Arlington have the lowest smoking rate and highest reports of very good or excellent health compared to the other 99 communities. This suburban Virginia community has bragging rights for balancing both healthy behaviors and an infrastructure conducive living a fit, healthy lifestyle. Way to go VA!
If you’re reading this, you probably know as a country, we have an overall health and obesity crisis on our hands. Here’s how bad it is. According to the CDC only 6% of Americans engage in the 5 health-related behaviors that prevent chronic disease. Those are:
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Going light on the booze (or not drinking at all)
- Exercising regularly (ideally you get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day – gardening and good paced dog-walking counts!)
- Getting sufficient sleep (7 – 9 hours of quality sleep is optimum)
It’s no wonder obesity rates have reached 40% and related medical costs are over $147 billion yearly. Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., chair of the American Fitness Index Board and a Regents’ professor in the Exercise Science and Health Promotion Program in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University says, “along with dietary changes, exercise is one of the best ways people can turn this around; unfortunately, only 22 percent of Americans are meeting national physical activity guidelines.” Her hope is that this index will motivate more communities to come up with ways to improve their residents’ health and fitness options.
Only 22 percent of Americans meet aerobic and strength activity levels
Only 6% of Americans engage in the 5 health-related behaviors that prevent chronic disease.
When our health suffers, so does our quality of life and our productivity. There’s a strong correlation between the health and the economy of communities according to Jerome M. Adams, M.D., MPH 20th U.S. Surgeon General. He says, “healthier communities tend to be economically more prosperous and vice versa. Improved community conditions for health, such as clean and safe neighborhoods, access to healthful food options, and opportunities for exercise and physical activity, can help positively influence health behaviors and lead to a more productive workforce.’’
Ok, enough chit chat. Let’s see how your city or ‘burb ranks:
Cities that rank near the top of the Fitness Index have more strengths and resources that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it. The opposite is true for cities near the bottom of the rankings. Did yours make the top 50? (Scroll down to see the 2nd half of the list).
The overall goal of the index is to promote the need for healthier lifestyle behaviors across the country. The partnership behind the report makes sense. The ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. It works to address health and fitness through research and education. Anthem, a large health insurance company, stands to benefit greatly from knowing where people are the healthiest and where they’re not. Helping people get healthier should be of primary concern. Ironically, Anthem’s home base of Indianapolis comes in almost dead last, at 99.
What we’re really talking about here is making a cultural shift. If we’re going to improve the health and fitness of all Americans, prevent disease and disability, and enhance quality of life, physical activity must become part of our culture. How many times have you heard Americans referred to as “fat and lazy?” It makes me cringe to think that is how much of the world see us. Integrating physical activity into our daily lives, says Dr. Adams, means making safer, cleaner neighborhoods, making it easier to get healthy food, and offering more opportunities for people to get exercise and physical activity.
Which are the most active cities?
I don’t know how it’s possible that so many people missed the memo, but apparently too many people put exercise at the bottom of their “to do list.” It bears repeating (and sharing – so click one of those share button ⬆️ at the top!) that regular exercise can reduce the risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer and falling. For kids and teens, it can decrease body fat and improve bone health, cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength. Plus its good for everyone’s mental health and stress levels, as is living in an area with lots of parks, green spaces, trails, and bike lanes. And if you want to discuss the bottom line, it’s good for the economy. There is strong evidence to show that well designed cities benefit from increased home values, retail sales, as well as business and job growth.
Just a few more highlights from the report:
- 77.5% of adults in all Fitness Index cities were physically active in the previous month, with only 51.5% meeting aerobic activity guidelines and 22.2% meeting both strength and aerobic guidelines
- The average smoking rate across all cities was 15%, the highest was 25.7% (all 16 California cities in the Fitness Index averaged only 10.6%)
- 35% of residents in all cities reported their mental health was not good in the past 30 days (the top 25 cities averaged 35.8% reporting poor mental health in the past 30 days, and the highest city was 44.1%)
- 65.4% of residents in all cities indicated getting at least seven or more hours of sleep per night
- 30% of adults reported eating at least two servings of fruit per day, while only 18% indicated eating three or more servings of vegetables per day
- Averages among all cities were 4.6% walking or biking to work, and 65.7% located within a 10-minute walk of a park
What can you do?
If you’re a community activist or just a fitness aficionado, start a movement. Start a walking, jogging or hiking club with friends or on Meetup.com. Ask a community center or park to host some fitness classes. Reach out to your local city council or congressperson to see if this is even on their radar. Or go bigger by attending city council meetings and advocate for the cause!
In case you’re curious, here’s the rest of the list from 51- 100