What has the lowest smoking rate in the country, a wealth of farmers markets, a system of well-established parks — and now a reputation as a hot spot for health?
Arlington, Va. — Washington, D.C's next-door neighbor along the Potomac River— which was named the fittest city in the U.S. on Tuesday by the 2018 American Fitness Index report from the American College of Sports Medicine.
The 11th annual ACSM fitness index awarded the urban hub the top ranking thanks to residents' healthy behaviors. The city’s relatively low smoking rate of 5.9% pales in comparison to the 15% average of the 100 largest cities.
Close behind Arlington was Minneapolis and the nation's capital, which took the honors in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The index for the first time ranked the 100 largest cities, instead of the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Rankings are based off cities’ overall scores, which include data on fitness, nutrition, chronic disease, smoking, mental health, access to parks and public transportation.
“I’m not the least bit surprised,” said Arlington resident Kirk Anderson, who strolls the trails weekly at Theodore Roosevelt Island, a wooded park in the Potomac River that splits Arlington and Washington, D.C. “People are running and biking everywhere all the time. And there’s lots of good, healthy food around here.”
Anderson’s wife, Virginia Navarro, and their daughter, Danielle Anderson-Navarro, a high school lacrosse player, all agreed Arlington was noticeably more active than Miami Beach and Boston, where they lived before moving to Arlington seven years ago.
“You can walk everywhere here because of the Metro,” said Danielle, referring to the areas's subway system, as she practiced her photography amid the dense forest on the island.
Second-ranked Minneapolis — just a half point behind Arlington — benefits from successful collaboration between parks, schools and recreation centers, the report said.
Some cities exceed national averages for fitness, but the report shows that most Americans don't meet the Centers for Disease Control recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate activity each week and twice-weekly strength training.
While more than 75% of Americans reported being physically active within the last month, only about half of American adults meet aerobic activity guidelines. And less than a quarter meet both aerobic and strength guidelines.
“Encouraging exercise such as community walking programs and bicycling programs can help communities stem the rising tide of obesity,” said Barbara Ainsworth, chair of ACSM and professor at Arizona State University.
Madison, Wis., residents are the most active, according to the report: More than 90% said they exercised regularly. But Boise has the biggest percentage of residents who meet aerobic fitness standards (63.9%), and Plano, Texas, has the most residents who meet both aerobic and strength guidelines (31.4%).
Our diets could also stand to improve. The CDC recommends that adults eat about 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables daily, but that’s not reality for most Americans. The fitness index report found that just 30% of adults eat enough fruit, and a measly 18% eat enough vegetables.
“Having farmer’s markets is an easy way to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to communities for people who can improve their diet,” Ainsworth said.
The American Fitness Index can help inspire change in a city, Ainsworth said. Several cities, including Phoenix where she lives, encourage community health as a result of the rankings. She said the local governments in the top 50 cities generally promote healthy behavior more than those in the bottom 50 cities.
“Every city has strengths and has something to celebrate,” Ainsworth said. “And every city has shortcomings.”