Want to get fit and stay fit? Arlington, Va., may be the city for you: For the fifth year in a row, it has been named the fittest city in America. Meanwhile, the title of the least fit city goes to Oklahoma City, according to the annual fitness rankings of America’s 100 largest cities from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)/Elevance Health Foundation’s American Fitness Index.
This year, the Index included 34 indicators of personal and community health (think exercise, sleep, chronic disease, parks, playgrounds, bike paths, safe streets and more), with an emphasis on how physical activity affects mental health due to widespread reports that the ongoing pandemic took a toll on mental health.
“Arlington, Va., was ranked as the fittest city, with a score of 85 out of a possible 100,” says Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board. By contrast, Oklahoma City’s score was 20.1.
“Arlington had the highest proportion of residents exercising in the previous month and the lowest rates of high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes,” Paluch explains, and it also has lots of parks and recreational facilities.
In contrast, “Oklahoma City ranks among the lowest in these indicators, with higher rates of chronic disease and less availability of community parks and recreation that can support active living,” Paluch adds.
Where does your city rank?
The top five fittest cities in America are:
1. Arlington, Va.
2. Madison, Wis.
4. Washington, D.C.
The five least fit cities are:
96. Louisville, Ky.
98. Tulsa, Okla.
99. North Las Vegas, Nev.
100. Oklahoma City
Wondering where your city ranks? Check here.
Is your city mentally healthy?
When it comes to mental health, things were bleak: Close to 40% of residents in all of the 100 Fitness Index cities reported poor mental health. Cities reporting the highest rates of poor mental health included New Orleans; Laredo, Texas; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; San Jose, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Lubbock, Texas; Stockton, Calif.; Riverside, Calif.; and Cincinnati.
Poor mental health and lack of physical activity often travel together, fitness experts note.
“Mental health issues can contribute to chronic disease and sedentary lifestyles,” says Stella Volpe. She is a nutritionist and exercise physiologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va., and chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board. “Fortunately, physical activity, even in small amounts, can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve mood and self-esteem.”
How cities can improve their ranking
The good news is the ratings aren’t set in stone and provide a road map for cities looking to get fitter. For example, Tampa, Fla., has jumped from 57 to 25 in the rankings, thanks to increases in