The 5 Fittest Cities in the United States

A female runner by the empty reflecting pool by the Lincoln Memorial
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The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has released it eighth annual American Fitness Index® (AFI), ranking the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States in terms of “fitness,” as defined by a variety of exercise options and low rates of smoking, obesity, and diabetes.

Making it onto the top of the list is no small feat, given that most cities and towns across the country are fighting an uphill battle against the obesity epidemic. While the individual actions of residents in these areas are important and crucial, the impact of community-wide initiatives and urban design cannot be overstated.

The urban design movement known as New Urbanism has developed with the goals of promoting healthier and more environmentally-friendly cities, and recent data has shown that this movement can impact rates of overweight and obesity as well. Many of the cities below score high in areas like neighborhood walkability, making it easy to incorporate regular physical activity into one's everyday errands and activities.

The following five cities ranked highest on the most recent (2015) list of fittest cities:

1. Washington, DC

For the second year in a row, the nation’s capital tops the list of fittest cities. For AFI purposes, this includes the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, which received the highest score on the list, 79.6.

According to the AFI report, 73% of DC-area residents engaged in physical activity or exercise over the prior 30 days (although only 24% are meeting aerobic activity guidelines as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Residents of the nation’s capital were also more likely to consume more servings of fruits and veggies, and they were less likely to be current smokers. They were more likely to use public transportation to get to work—a factor that has been shown to reduce body mass index (BMI) and obesity.

The AFI noted several encouraging trends in the District of Columbia metro area since 2009, including an increase in the number of dog parks and farmers’ markets, an increase in the expenditures for parks, and a major decrease in the death rate for diabetes.

2. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN

Barely edging out San Diego (see below), the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area was found to have a low percentage of the population with chronic health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and a lower-than-average rate of obesity.

3. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA

The San Diego area was a very close third behind Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington. In San Diego, the report found that residents had access to a variety of outdoor exercise options, as well as good access farmers’ markets. 75% of the area’s residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park.

4. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

Fourth on the list was the San Francisco-Oakland area. Nearly a third of the residents in this area are meeting the CDC aerobic activity guidelines, and nearly a quarter are meeting both the CDC aerobic and strength activity guidelines.

In addition to more farmers’ markets, the San Francisco area has seen a decline in the percentage of current smokers and in deaths due to cardiovascular disease.

5. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA

The fifth highest-ranked metropolitan area was also in California, in the Sacramento area, where a quarter of residents meet both CDC aerobic and strength activity guidelines. Nearly 40%  of residents here consume two or more servings of fruit per day, and 22.5% consume three or more vegetables per day.

Don't live in one of the above cities? Find out where your city ranks on the list, and why. And no matter where your city ranks, continue to do what you can in your own daily life to incorporate more physical activity for yourself on a regular basis, and to follow a healthy lifestyle (including eating a balanced diet and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol use).

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Article Sources

  • American College of Sports Medicine. The American Fitness Index Report.
  • Flint E, Cummins S, Sacker A. Associations between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom. BMJ 2014;349:g4887.