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Arlington, Virginia, tops list of fittest, healthiest US cities

These metro areas have easy access to parks, walking paths and bike lanes. They also have good air quality and are safe for pedestrians.
Arlington Va
Arlington, Virginia, has a low proportion of people who smoke, and have diabetes or heart disease. More people take public transport, and it has many options for being physically active, including bike and walking trails.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Whether you love to walk, bike or run in a park, you’ll feel right at home in Arlington, Virginia, dubbed “America’s fittest city” for the second year in a row.

The community across the river from the nation’s capital topped the list of the 2019 American Fitness Index — an annual ranking of the largest 100 U.S. cities — published Tuesday by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Anthem Foundation.

The list takes into account the personal health habits of residents, plus a variety of factors that reveal “community fitness,” such as easy access to parks, recreational centers, walking paths and bike lanes. Communities with the highest scores have the most active, healthiest residents and offer more resources that support healthy living, the report noted.

Cities can actually nudge people to be healthier by creating an environment where residents want to be more active, said Barbara Ainsworth, chair of the American Fitness Index Board and a regents’ professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.

“That is an absolute yes,” Ainsworth told TODAY. “We know that physical activity is one of the most powerful health-enhancing behaviors for reducing the risks for just about every chronic disease.

“People who live in healthier cities — that is cities that have better air quality, better places to be safe for walking and cycling, where there are farmers markets for healthier eating, where cities spend more money on improving and maintaining recreational facilities — it makes it much easier for people to be physically active.”

The top 10 fittest U.S. cities are:

Courtesy of ACSM/Anthem American Fitness Index

1. Arlington, Virginia

2. Seattle, Washington

3. Minneapolis, Minnesota

4. San Francisco, California

5. Madison, Wisconsin

6. Washington, D.C.

7. St. Paul, Minnesota

8. Irvine, California

9. Denver, Colorado

10. Portland, Oregon

Arlington residents reported the most physical activity, with 92% exercising in the previous month and a third meeting U.S. aerobic and strength activity guidelines, the report noted.

“Arlington has knocked it out of the ballpark,” Ainsworth said. “It also has a low proportion of people who smoke, who have diabetes or heart disease. More people take public transport and Arlington has wonderful facilities for being physically active: bike trails and walking trails.”

It was the opposite scenario for the cities on the bottom of the list.

The 10 least fit U.S. cities are:

91. Corpus Christi, Texas

92. Arlington, Texas

93. Detroit, Michigan

94. Bakersfield, California

95. Louisville, Kentucky

96. Indianapolis, Indiana

97. Toledo, Ohio

98. Tulsa, Oklahoma

99. North Las Vegas, Nevada

100. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City has higher levels of smoking, higher levels of obesity and greater levels of people with high blood pressure, Ainsworth said. She noted the metro area has “worked diligently” to create a plan to improve its infrastructure for physical activity and air quality but that these changes take time.

Pedestrian safety, which can impact how often people walk or bike, was part of this year’s report for the first time. The number of people who have been killed by cars while walking has increased by 35% in the past decade, the authors noted.

St. Louis, Missouri, had the worst score in this category, but almost half of the 10 deadliest cities for pedestrians were in Florida: Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and St. Petersburg.

Ainsworth urged city leaders to step up and take “bold and decisive action” to create places where people can safely walk and bike. But she also had this advice to residents:

“Everybody can be active because all cities have places where people can be safe,” she said. “Get moving, eat well, go outside and try to be active every day.”

See where your city ranks in the 12th annual American Fitness Index.