Virginia suburb of DC extends streak as 'America's Fittest City'

Arlington, Va., is the fittest U.S. city for a fourth consecutive year as the Washington, D.C., suburb topped the 2021 list put out by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Anthem Foundation.

Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, and Madison, Wis., rounded out the top five fittest cities in the annual report that was released Tuesday.

Minneapolis and Seattle traded places from the previous year, while Denver moved up four spots from its 2020 ranking. Oklahoma City retained its status as the least fit city on the list of 100.

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The index, now in its 14th year, consists of 34 fitness indicators, such as the percentage of people who smoke, those who have exercised in the previous month and residents who have diabetes. The criteria also include city infrastructure like parks and recreational centers.

The 2021 index added food insecurity and sleep to its list of indicators.

Arlington earned the top spot by ranking first in eight categories and ranking in the top 10 for 18 others. Residents reported more physical activity than any other city, with 85.7 percent of respondents saying they had exercised in the past month.

Stella Volpe, a co-author of the report, said Arlington offers the kind of amenities that promote healthy lifestyles.

“They have great trails and parks that are accessible to people,” she said.

Volpe said Arlington also has a healthy culture, noting that just because a city incorporates bike lanes or nature trails does not necessarily mean people will use them.

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Still, she said such infrastructure encourages people to get outside and exercise, adding that those expenditures do not have to come at a high cost to local governments.

“Parks don’t have to be fancy,” Volpe said.

She said that residents of cities with a low ranking on the index can engage with policymakers to help make it easier for people to be active and practice good nutrition.

“Part of this really is policy-oriented,” Volpe said.

The 2021 report also described how the COVID-19 pandemic raised many questions about what people take for granted regarding health in their communities. Adverse effects stemming from the coronavirus beyond the disease itself decreased overall health.

A February 2021 poll by the American Psychological Association found that 61 percent of adults reported undesirable changes to their weight, while 23 percent said they increased their alcohol consumption.

Volpe said the pandemic has affected people in ways that were not just physical.

“The effects of the isolation certainly affected mental health for many people,” she said.