Cities' efforts to make exercise easier pays off

Mon Jun 25, 2012 9:05am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fitness is often a combination of personal choice and environmental support, experts say, and a ranking of the 50 healthiest U.S. cities seems to reinforce the theory.

High rates of physical activity helped to propel Minneapolis-St. Paul to the top of the list of the American College of Sports Medicine's 2012 American Fitness Index (AFI) for the second year in a row, while raised obesity levels and smoking pushed Oklahoma City to the bottom.

"When I say Minneapolis ranked No. 1, people give me an 'are you kidding me' kind of look," said Walter Thompson, the chairman of the AFI Advisory Board. "Between November 1 and April 1 they have cold and snow, but they've addressed that."

Thompson said the solution was a proliferation of exercise studios that dot main streets, and a local government that has invested resources in park lands.

When people in Minneapolis were asked if they had any physical activity in last 30 days, he said 82.9 percent said they had.

The index, which considered factors ranging from the number of tennis courts to the percentage of smokers, relied on information from federal government data, such as Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Census reports, as well as information from the 50 cities.

Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, and Hartford in Connecticut were the five fittest, healthiest metro areas, while Birmingham, Dallas, Texas, Louisville, Detroit, Michigan and Oklahoma City fared the poorest.

"A couple of cities have made significant improvements," said Thompson about the rankings, which began in 2008. "A policy decision can dramatically impact environmental indicators, like smoking bans or bicycle lane ordinances."   Continued...

A man jogs under a canopy of cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, March 25, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young