The most fit city in the country? Arlington, Virginia — again.
For the fifth consecutive time in its 15-year history, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Fitness Index has ranked the D.C. suburb at the top of the nation’s 100 largest cities.
And while Arlington residents have plenty of exercise options available — from gyms to yoga studios and more — it was the various ways that physical activity is built into the area’s layout that put the city on top.
“It’s easy to walk to coffee places, so even during work breaks, people have the ability to take walks to get lunch [or] to take a little break. The accessibility is key,” said Stella Volpe, who chairs the Fitness Index’s advisory board.
She added that Arlington’s many basketball courts, fields, trails, proximity to the Potomac River and accessibility that allows people with disabilities to get exercise were major factors to the city’s score.
Arlington wasn’t alone locally — Washington, D.C., moved up two spots in this year’s rankings, going from No. 6 last year to No. 4 this year. Ms. Volpe said that was driven by its greater park usage, its reduction in some chronic diseases and rates of smoking, and its walkability.
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Other cities in the top five were Madison, Wisconsin (No. 2); Minneapolis, Minnesota (No. 3); and Seattle, Washington (No. 5).
The rankings were derived from two main factors: Personal Health rank, and a Community + Environment rank. Arlington ranked first in both categories, while the District was fifth in Personal Health and second in Community + Environment.
There were 39 indicators that ACSM’s researchers looked at to determine those rankings as well.
The summary report provided to The Washington Times didn’t lay out how each city fared in every one of those metrics.
However, it did say that Arlington was the top-rated in six metrics: percentage exercising in the previous month, percentage in excellent or very good health, percentage with poor physical health in the previous month, percentage with high blood pressure, percentage with stroke and percentage with diabetes.
The summary report noted that Arlington made it into the top 10 for 19 of those indicators.
It’s welcome news that two of the largest jurisdictions in the area made the list, but what about Maryland? Baltimore was the only city in the Free State that was ranked, at No. 67 (with a poor Personal Health rank of 91 but a Community + Environment rank of 13).
That was due to the index’s criteria, which only looked at the 100 largest cities in the U.S. for its ranking, according to Ms. Volpe.
For instance, the smallest city on the list was Spokane, Washington, which has about 220,000 people — meaning that many of the health-conscious suburbs around the District and Baltimore were too small to be considered.
One interesting part of the list was that despite the District’s high ranking in terms of fitness, it ranked in the bottom when it came to mental health (No. 97).
“Certainly people can be physically active and still have mental health disease,” Ms. Volpe said. She noted that other cities, such as the District and Madison, had some of the worst rates of mental health.
Ms. Volpe said that it was a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if people were getting out and exercising more, there was still an unhealthy amount of isolation for most communities, she said.
Another curious part of the pandemic was its divergent effect on health habits. Ms. Volpe noted that while some people exercised more and cooked better meals at home, others developed poorer diets and lost interest in working out.