MORE: Kick it Up First Coast
The Twin Cities Minneapolis-St. Paul are the healthiest, fittest cities in the USA, followed by Washington, D.C., and Boston, according to a new analysis of the 50 most populous metro areas.
Jacksonville, Fla., is no. 31.
The annual American Fitness Index, out today from the American College of Sports Medicine, is based on a number of health factors, including percentage of residents who smoke, obesity rates, percentage of people who exercise and availability of parks, walking trails and farmers' markets.
"It takes a healthy community to produce a healthy population, and Minneapolis-St. Paul is a beautiful place to live if you're interested in a physically active lifestyle," says Barbara Ainsworth, president-elect of the sports medicine group and a professor in Arizona State University's exercise and wellness program in Phoenix.
Among the reasons the Twin Cities ranked No. 1: a lower-than-average obesity rate, an above-average percentage of residents who exercise, a relatively low smoking rate and moderate-to-low rates of chronic health problems such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes. Plus the area has lots of parks and recreational facilities.
Minneapolis was one of the first cities to have organized bicycle trails and to prohibit smoking in public places, she says, and it has many parks and public golf courses.
Almost 16% of land in the city is park land vs. an average of 10% in other cities across the country, Ainsworth says. "The parks are filled with baseball diamonds, tennis courts, walking trails so there are many different ways to be active."
For the past three years, several cities have made the top 10, including Washington, Boston, Portland and Seattle, she says. "These are cities that are vibrant, active and very forward-thinking."
Oklahoma City is at the bottom of the list because of the residents' personal health habits such as smoking, not exercising enough and not eating enough fruits and vegetables, Ainsworth says.
The American College of Sports Medicine is working with several cities, including Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, to help create strategies and policies that make it easier for residents to be healthy, she says.
Experts are increasingly concerned about the country's health because two-thirds of people are overweight or obese, and only about a quarter meet the national exercise recommendations, which advise adults to get 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week.
Public health officials and others have been pushing for changes in the environment so that it's easier for people to be physically active where they live, work and play.
"The communities that scored well are places where physical activity is the convenient option," says Russell Pate, an exercise researcher at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina-Columbia. He's chair of the National Physical Activity Plan, a coalition working to boost physical activity in the USA.
"Right now in so many places, there are many barriers to being physically active. We need to make changes across the country that will make physical activity the easy choice, the convenient choice."
The fitness index was designed by health and medical experts and funded by the non-profit WellPoint Foundation.
For more information, visit americanfitnessindex.org.
Where does your city fall in the fitness rankings?
1. Minneapolis-St. Paul
2. Washington, D.C.
4. Portland, Ore.
6. San Francisco
7. Hartford, Conn.
9. Virginia Beach
11. San Jose, Calif.
12. Richmond, Va.
13. San Diego, Calif.
14. Cincinnati, Ohio.
15. Salt Lake City, Utah
16. Austin, Texas
17. Pittsburgh, Pa.
21. Milwaukee, Wisc.
22. Kansas City, Mo.
26. St. Louis, Mo.
30. New York City
31. Jacksonville, Fla.
33. San Antonio
34. New Orleans, La.
41. Los Angeles
43. Las Vegas
44. Riverside, Calif.
47. Birmingham, Ala.
50. Oklahoma City, Okla.
Source: American Fitness Index from the American College of Sports Medicine