What's more picturesque than a jog amid Washington, DC's cherry blossoms in spring?

What's more picturesque than a jog amid Washington, DC's cherry blossoms in spring?

By Josie Rubio

It’s just coincidence that Washington D.C. was named the fittest city in the U.S. on the same day that First Lady Michelle Obama released her Let’s Move #GimmeFive video showing off her impressive jump-roping skills, weightlifting and roundhouse kicks. (But we still recommend watching the video for some FLOTUS inspiration.)

This is the second year in a row that the D.C. area has topped the list of the 50 largest U.S. cities in the eighth annual American Fitness Index (AFI) rankings released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Anthem Foundation. Coming in second is Minneapolis/St. Paul, with San Diego a close third and San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Boston and San Jose rounding out the top 10.

The rankings are based on both personal health and community health scores calculated from data from the U.S Census, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Trust for the Public Land City Park Facts and other resources. “The personal indicators are the characteristics that you and I, living in these communities, may exhibit that we have control over that we can change,” says Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, chair of the AFI Advisory Board. “Things like smoking and our diet, how much exercise we get, that sort of thing.”

However, the main focus is the community rankings, which examine factors like park spaces, recreational facilities, bikeability and number of farmers’ markets. “What we’re more interested in is if I want to be physically active, if I want to be healthy, does my environment support that or does it create barriers?” Thompson says. “In some of our lower-ranked cities, for example, there’s no accessibility to parks or they don’t support their parks or there may not be as many parks. And in the higher ranked cities, just the opposite is happening.”

This year, the index also measured accessibility to parks by looking at how many people in the metro area lived within a 10-minute walk to a park. In top-ranked Washington D.C., that’s 95%, whereas in lowest-ranked Indianapolis, it’s 31%. “Only about one-third of the people [in the Indianapolis area] live close enough to a park that they don’t have to drive to it,” Thompson says.

While creating new park spaces costs time and money, several cities have employed creative solutions to improve AFI rankings. Thompson cites Atlanta, which moved from number 16 to 14 this year, as an example. In some urban areas, bike lanes were added when it was time to paint new lines on the roads. The city is also in the process of transforming 22 miles of abandoned railroad tracks that surround the metro area into the Atlanta BeltLine, a series of trails for activities like jogging and biking and as a place to host events such as fitness classes and guided hikes.

There are also success stories at the bottom of the list. When Oklahoma City came in at number 50 several years ago, Mayor Mick Cornett invited the ACSM to make suggestions about how to make the area more accessible for exercise and for fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition to inviting farmers to sell fresh produce in former "food deserts," says Thompson, “He put himself and the city of Oklahoma City on a diet.” The city collectively lost 1 million pounds and moved from 50 to 48.

If you’d like to take action in your city, visit the American Fitness Index website for the downloadable community action plan. “It’s full of ideas on how grassroots organizations and individuals can make changes in their cities,” says Thompson, adding the guide includes tips for how to approach city officials.

If you’re looking to improve your personal health, spring is a good time to enjoy the benefits of outdoor activities, including gardening, hiking and walking. (Use our handy ih8exercise guides to start a walking program or begin a running routine.)

“I’m a big fan of getting active in the outdoors whenever possible,” says Jonathan Ross of Aion Fitness and master instructor for ACE, SPRI and Tabata Bootcamp in the D.C. area. “Personally, I play beach volleyball with friends once a week during the summer, and like to enjoy a trail run here and there with hiking when I can get the time, along with stand-up-paddling several times each summer. I typically encourage clients to try something new outside — both in the winter and summer. Once people enjoy the benefits of outdoor physicality, they usually get more into it.”

It’s also the season for outdoor fitness classes — and plenty of free classes, from CrossFit, yoga and Zumba in Boston to group fitness in New York City to free rooftop Zumba and lawn yoga in Seattle. ACSM recommends exercising five days a week for at least 30 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes of stretching and light muscle training.

Below are the top 10 fittest cities, according to the American College of Sports Medicine American Fitness Index. Click here for the complete list.

1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria  79.6

2. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 75.6 *

3. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 75.6

4. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 72.6

5. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA 71.4

6. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 71.1

7. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 69.6

8. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 68.5

9. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 68.1

10. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 65.9

*The scores shown have been rounded to the nearest tenth of a point, resulting in some apparent ties; however, the rankings are based on the full calculated score values that were not equal in those cases.

Did your city make the top-10 list?



Photo: f11photo / Dollar Photo Club