Press Club

NEW: Arlington sets record after again ranking No. 1 on American Fitness Index

Runners in Long Bridge Park in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington has ranked No. 1 on the American Fitness Index for a record fifth year in a row.

The county topped the list, published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Elevance Health Foundation, after placing first in the nation in six separate fitness and health categories. The new rankings were announced this morning.

“Arlington, Virginia, earned its No. 1 designation for the fifth time, a Fitness Index record, by ranking first in six indicators and scoring among the top 10 cities in 19 of the 34 categories,” ACSM said in a press release. “Arlington was ranked No. 1 in both the personal health and community/environment sub-scores.”

The categories for which Arlington received top marks, out of the 100 U.S. localities indexed by ACSM, are below.

  • % exercising in the last 30 days (Arlington 93.8%, city average 77.6%)
  • % in excellent or very good health (Arlington 70.1%, city average 55.9%)
  • % physical health not good during the past 30 days (Arlington 16.1%, city average 27.5%)
  • % with high blood pressure (Arlington 15.2%, city average 30.4%)
  • % with stroke (Arlington 0.4%, city average 3.2%)
  • % with diabetes (Arlington 5.2%, city average 10.3%)

Arlington’s overall rank was 85, compared to an average of 51.7, while the county’s personal health rank was 86.8, compared to an average of 50.5.

2022 Fitness Index Top 10 Infographic (courtesy ACSM)

There was good news for a nation in as a whole in this year’s rankings, with ACSM reporting an “increase in the percentage of Americans exercising in the previous month (77.6%); sleeping 7+ hours/day (68%); and reporting excellent/very good health (55.9%), since last year’s Fitness Index.”

An excerpt from this morning’s press release is below.

Arlington, Virginia, has been named “America’s Fittest City” in the annual American Fitness Index® rankings published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Elevance Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Elevance Health.

The ACSM / Elevance Fitness Index evaluated America’s 100 largest cities using 34 evidence-based indicators. Rounding out the top 10 fittest cities are Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Washington, D.C.; Seattle, Washington; Irvine, California; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; Denver, Colorado; and Chicago, Illinois (first time in the top 10). Full rankings and scores, a summary report, city comparison tool and other insights are accessible on the Fitness Index website.

“Congratulations to those city leaders and planners who led efforts to develop parks and playgrounds, build bike paths and safe streets, and offer a built environment that encourages physical activity,” said Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., chief health officer of Elevance Health. “As we entered another year of the pandemic, health disparities in our communities continued to be an issue, which only encourages us to tackle health equity head on. We were also faced with another year of loss, sickness, and isolation, resulting in the need for improved mental health. As we start to return to our previous routines, we need to underscore the significant mental and physical health benefits exercise in our lives.”

Now in its 15th year, the Fitness Index offers city leaders valuable research to make potentially life-changing decisions in policy, systems and environmental change strategies that drive fitness and health improvements in their communities.

As mental health concerns grow rapidly across the nation, this year’s Fitness Index provides statistical evidence regarding the problem’s scope. On average, 39.6% of residents in the Fitness Index cities reported poor mental health. Nearly 58% of adults in the U.S. perceive a pandemic-related negative effect on emotional or mental health. Cities reporting the highest rates of poor mental health (listed from highest to lowest) include New Orleans, Louisiana; Laredo, Texas; San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C.; San Jose, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Lubbock, Texas; Stockton, California; Riverside, California; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

There is good news. Research has shown physical activity – both aerobic and strength training – to be effective in preventing and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving mood and self-esteem, and improving quality of sleep.

ACSM issued a statement in August 2021 and is offering resources on the benefits of physical activity for those with mental health issues

“The Fitness Index Advisory Board hypothesized that poor mental health issues might be a significant factor because the pandemic disrupted every phase of our lives, some more than others,” said Stella Volpe, Ph.D., R.D.N., ACSM-CEP, FACSM, chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board. “Our decision to hone in on this important factor was accurate. We found that cities ranked in the top 25 tended to score well in personal health indicators; however, there was one exception – mental health. Four cities in the top 25 also ranked among the cities with the poorest mental health.”

ACSM and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, about 22 minutes per day. They also recommend muscle strengthening activity twice a week. Volpe said 22.4% of adults in the Fitness Index cities reported no exercise in the previous month, and only 50.9% met the aerobic activity guidelines, while an even smaller percentage (23.8) met the guidelines for both aerobic and strength activities.

“Increases in physical activity are likely to help reduce the mental health burden,” said Volpe. “This underscores the need for local community leaders to step up and make bold spending choices, policy decisions, and infrastructure changes to increase opportunities for residents to be physically active and healthy. Local community actions that change personal behaviors also reduce obesity rates, incidence of chronic disease and stress. ACSM and the Elevance Health Foundation now implement year-round education and outreach activities around the Fitness Index results to help identify needs in each city and contribute to potential solutions.”

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