There is plenty of evidence that supports the idea that health and wellness is closely associated with environment. And that goes for more than just your immediate, physical surroundings — there’s a lot to be said for cultural and social environments too. Do you live in an area with plenty of parks, in which people are constantly jogging or walking their dogs? Or, perhaps you’re stuck in an area without a lot of green, open space — and as a result, you don’t get out as much, and get less exercise.
Where you live and who you associate with can play a major role in your health, whether you are aware of it or not. With that in mind, perhaps in addition to trying to alter our levels of physical activity and perfect our diets, we should also do what we can when it comes to our environment.
If fitness and health are truly that vital to our happiness and contentment, moving is an option (for some of us). And thanks to the annual American College of Sports Medicine American Fitness Index, we get an inside look at which American cities in particular have become hubs for the habitual, monuments for the muscular, and favorites for the fit. That is, the report ranks American cities in terms of fitness.
For 2015’s report, ACSM researchers took a number of things into account when developing their list, including access to city parks, whether cities have community resources and policies that support better health, and given levels of chronic health issues, as well as the prevalence of preventative health measures, in a given community. The whole list includes the country’s 50 largest cities.
“Cities that ranked near the top of the index have more strengths that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it,” the report says. “The opposite is true for cities near the bottom of the index. All cities are commended for their areas of excellence and encouraged to focus future efforts on their improvement priority areas to achieve a healthy and active population.”
As for the top ten cities themselves, which are listed below for easy reference, there are some clear trends that make them stand out from the others. For starters, the majority are on the west coast. California’s largest cities all made the list, minus Los Angeles (which ranked 23 out of 50), with Seattle and Portland to boot. Boston and Washington D.C. were the lone east coast cities, and Denver and Minneapolis were the outliers from the middle of the country.
And that’s one thing that the data clearly shows: Cities on the coasts tend to be much fitter, and in many ways more health-conscious, than those in the central part of the country. A quick look at the cities that finished last among the top 50 — Indianapolis, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio — are all in the Midwest or in the South, which is a region tied to higher levels of obesity, stress, and chronic illness.
As with any study, however, there are some limitations. The full extent of the data shows that just because some cities ranked lower than others, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are worse-off.
“The scores for many cities are very similar, indicating that there is relatively little difference among them,” the report says. “For example, the score for Cincinnati was 56.4 while the score for Chicago was 56.3. While Cincinnati was ranked higher than Chicago, these two metropolitan areas were actually very similar across all of the indicators; thus, there is little difference in the community wellness levels.”
It’s also important to remember that America is an extremely diverse place, and there are a multitude of things that could impact a city’s ranking or score within the report’s boundaries. Residents of Phoenix, for example, may have more access to parks, but due to the extreme climate, are probably spending a good portion of the year inside. There are also dramatically changing demographics of certain cities, particularly in places like California, that can play an impact — socioeconomic status too.
For the full report, including the complete rankings for all 50 cities, and their scores, check out the link below. As for the top ten list, here it is:
10. San Jose, CA
9. Boston, MA
8. Seattle, WA
7. Portland, OR
6. Denver, CO
5. Sacramento, CA
4. San Francisco, CA
3. San Diego, CA
2. Minneapolis, MN
1. Washington D.C.
For more details, check out the complete 2015 report from the American Fitness Index.
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