Arlington reigns supreme as nation’s fittest ‘city’ for sixth year in a row

Arlington secured the number one spot as the “fittest city” in the nation — for the sixth year in a row.

The new 2023 rankings were released yesterday (Tuesday) by the American College of Sports Medicine and Elevance Health Foundation.

The rankings found that Arlingtonians not only tend to make health-conscious decisions — eating vegetables, not smoking and biking to work — but also have access to an abundance of parks, trails and wide sidewalks to stay active.

“I am very impressed with Arlington for getting this spot for the sixth year in a row, however, I won’t say I am surprised. The county has done well with creating the assets needed to have a healthy community,” chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board Dr. Stella Volpe told ARLnow yesterday. “Arlington has resources for making the healthy choice the easy choice for its residents.”

Arlington County and 99 other cities and municipalities were evaluated based on 34 evidence-based health indicators, such as recreational facilities and how often residents work out. It ranked in the top 10 cities for 16 of these criteria.

The county topped both the “personal health” category, which measures individual fitness choices and health outcomes, and the “community-environment” category, which measures indicators such as access to recreational facilities, a press release said.

“Getting a title like this is a great honor for Arlington,” Volpe said. “The city is on a great roll and is certainly doing things right. It is something to be happy about.”

Arlington scored the highest in the nation for the percentage of residents who had exercised in the last month, landing at 89.9%, and had the lowest score in the nation for the percentage of residents with diabetes, at 5.8%.

The report noted that Arlington had not had any pedestrian deaths in the most recent federal data available, from 2020, but there have been some fatalities since then.

D.C. and Seattle fell just behind Arlington, ranking in second and third place overall.

“Residents are almost forced to be active in Arlington which is part of the reason why the city keeps winning,” Volpe said.

2023 Fitness Ranking infographic (courtesy American College of Sports Medicine)

The press release about the rankings release is below.

Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., are the top cities in the 16th annual ACSM American Fitness Index® (Fitness Index) rankings published by the American College of Sports Medicine® (ACSM) and the Elevance Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Elevance Health. Arlington was named “America’s Fittest City” for the sixth consecutive year, with top scores in both the personal health and community/environment sub-scores.

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

“No city is immune to chronic disease, but fortunately, every city and every person can take positive steps toward creating healthier lifestyles,” said Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., chief health officer of Elevance Health. “Physical activity has proven to be an effective tool in reducing the prevalence of many chronic diseases. Getting sufficient physical activity could prevent one in 12 cases of diabetes, one in 15 cases of heart disease and one in 10 premature deaths. We also know that food is medicine, and consistent access to nutritious food is an essential part of maintaining health. When we provide our bodies with nutritious foods, we are less affected by diet-sensitive chronic conditions. Hunger and health are deeply connected, and when we prioritize both, we can improve our quality of life.”.”

The science-based Fitness Index offers city leaders valuable data annually to make potentially life-changing decisions in policy, systems and environmental-change strategies that drive fitness and health improvements in their communities. The Fitness Index research findings indicated the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt across the country, and the full impact may not be known for decades.

“The importance of the Fitness Index has taken on new meaning for individuals and communities seeking to improve their health and well-being,” said Stella Volpe, Ph.D., RDN, FACSM, ACSM-CEP, chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board, and ACSM president-elect. “Research suggests that to improve physical and mental health, prevent disease and disability, and enhance quality of life for all Americans, we must create a culture that integrates physical activity into our daily lives.”

ACSM recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — about 22 minutes per day — and muscle-strengthening activity twice a week. Volpe said 78% of adults in the Fitness Index cities reported exercising in the previous month, but only 60% met the aerobic activity guidelines, while an even smaller percentage (24) met both aerobic and strength activity guidelines.

“Unfortunately, Americans are still not moving enough,” 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. Collective actions and resources at the community level greatly influence the health choices available to us, and the Fitness Index is a road map for where communities can improve.”

Arlington, Virginia, ranked among the top 10 cities for 16 of 34 indicators, giving it a balance of healthy behaviors and community assets. Arlington had the highest percentage of residents exercising in the last 30 days, the lowest percentage of residents with diabetes, no pedestrian fatalities and tied for cities with the highest percentage of residents who live within a 10-minute walk to a park. All cities can be compared to Arlington or others ranked in the Fitness Index by accessing the online City Comparison Tool.

Additional findings from the 2023 Fitness Index rankings include:

  • Cities in the top 25 generally scored well in health outcomes. However, cities outside of the top 25 took honors for lowest rates of asthma and heart disease, with El Paso, Texas, and Bakersfield, California, leading the way, respectively.
  • Riverside, California, improved the most, rising 18 spots (from No. 90 to No. 72) in the rankings, the largest shift being an improvement in personal health indicators — specifically, more people consuming fruits and vegetables and fewer days with poor mental health.
  • Santa Clarita, California, replaced Hialeah, Florida, in the top 100 cities based on the U.S. Census population data. Santa Clarita was No. 66 in the overall rankings.
  • Cities with the highest rates of one chronic disease tend to also have high rates of other chronic diseases and generally rank in the bottom 25 overall: diabetes and obesity (Laredo, Texas); high blood pressure (St. Petersburg, Florida); heart disease (Louisville, Kentucky); asthma (Fort Wayne, Indiana); and stroke (Winston-Salem, North Carolina).