Arlington Once Again Ranked America’s ‘Fittest City’

The county has scored the top spot in a nationwide fitness index for the sixth year in a row.
Arlington Cycling

Photo courtesy of Arlington County

Arlington is the nation’s fittest city for the sixth year in a row, according to researchers with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Elevance Health Foundation.

The 16th annual Fitness Index evaluated American’s 100 largest cities using 34 indicators relating to health behaviors and outcomes, the built environment, recreational facilities, policies and funding. Within that framework, researchers studied metrics such as how often people exercised, their fruit and vegetable consumption, sleep habits and ease of access to recreation centers and parks.

Overall, Arlington earned a score of 83.1 out of a possible 100. It ranked in the top 10 for 16 of the study’s 34 indicators.

Neighboring Washington, D.C., ranked No. 2 on the index, with Seattle rounding out the top three.

Notably, the study found that Arlington had the highest percentage of residents who had exercised within the past 30 days and the lowest percentage with diabetes. Arlington tied with Boston, New York City, San Francisco and St. Paul., Minn., as one of the cities with the highest percentage of residents who live within a 10-minute walk to a park.

Recreational areas and greenspace are an important piece of the fitness puzzle, says Stella Volpe, chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board and ACSM president-elect. It’s not just about making time to exercise; it’s also about have access to workout facilities, fields and parks, and an environment that’s generally walkable.

“Walking to places is easy and safe…for the most part in Arlington,” she says. “You have this great access to parks, but even if you wanted to just go get some lunch with a friend or go get a cup of coffee or walk with your dog, it’s not a difficult thing.”

Spotlighting the pervasiveness of chronic disease nationwide, the report found that six in 10 adults have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more. The most prevalent chronic diseases are obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“Physical activity is one of the most important behaviors people can do to prevent or decrease the severity of chronic diseases, manage symptoms and increase quality of life,” the report states. Regular exercise can prevent one in 12 cases of diabetes, one in 15 cases of heart disease and one in 10 premature deaths, Shantanu Agrawal, chief health officer for Elevance Health, said in the report.

Although 78.1% of adults nationwide reported exercising in the previous month, only 50.9% met the aerobic activity guidelines, and just 23.7% met the guidelines for both aerobic and strength activities, according to the report.

By comparison, almost 90% of Arlington residents reported working out in the past month.

ASCM and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, amounting to about 22 minutes per day, and strength-training activities for all muscle groups twice a week.

“Exercise is medicine,” Volpe says. “It doesn’t have to be a marathon that they run every day, but try to get moving every day…to help with physical, physiological and mental health.”

Speaking of which, mental health is one area where many cities – including Arlington and others in the top 10 – stand to improve, she says, by providing better access to mental health services.

The index is designed to provide insights that city officials and residents can use to “work together to create more vibrant and physically active communities that promote the health and well-being of all,” according to the study’s authors.

One small step that can have a big impact on health? Turning small, grassy areas into parks or playgrounds, Volpe says. “It’s something where maybe children can run around or parents can walk there or people can walk their dogs. That gives them this opportunity to move a little bit more.”

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Categories: Health & Fitness