America's Fittest Cities
Being fit goes to the core of what The Active Times is about. Just read our strap line. But being fit is not just about pumping iron, logging miles or holding a perfect Crane pose. It is about embracing the healthy, active life.
That requires both the willingness to do so and the opportunity. As much as we love to be in the great outdoors as often as we can, the reality is that we spend most of our time in cities, big or small, because that is where most of us live. The plain fact is that there are some places where the willingness to be fit and the opportunity come together better than in others. They are America's fittest cities.
We set out to identify them. We didn't want to compile just a reverse list of America's fattest cities based on obesity rates. So we combed through sets of data that covered fitness measures from aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise levels to, yes, obesity rates, but also general health and wellness indices, and more indirect indicators of fitness such as cities' smoking, drinking and stress levels.
We ended up with 15 measures that we could compare across America's metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Not only do statistical surveys use MSAs as a standard unit, but those who live in city centers usually have ready access to fitness resources such as gyms, bike paths, parks and trails in the suburbs and vice-versa.
Our sources included the behavioral surveys of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and the American College of Sports Medicine's Fitness Index. We also took into account industry-standard surveys of activities like cycling and cities' access to recreational facilities like parks and trails.
We then weighted our measures according to a proprietary algorithm to minimize double counting. That left us with a single composite score for each city. That score was indexed against our top-ranking city, Boulder, Colo., to create this year's TAT Fitness Index.
That provides the ranking for our final list (see: America's 25 Fittest Cities and America's 10 Fittest Small Cities), and a sense of how cities fare against each other. Giving Boulder a score of 100, the least fit city on our list, Huntington-Ashland, located where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia come together on the Ohio River, came out at 1,468 (see: America's 10 Least Fit Cities).
One caveat: we couldn't get solid data across all 15 categories for all MSAs. The CDC, in particular, is — quite rightly — strict in setting aside survey data it deems not statistically representative of a particular city. So we set aside from our rankings any city that couldn't be scored in at least 10 of our categories.
We are confident that Boulder, Colo. and Provo-Orem, Utah are America's two fittest cities. In Boulder's case, ready access to an extensive range of trails, city-run exercise progrmas and a reputation as one of America's most bike-friendly cities back up the hard data. A large network of biking and hiking trails and ready access to Provo Canyon and Rock Canyon for snow and water sports according to the season do the same for Provo-Orem.
Yet there are places such as Ann Arbor, Mich. and Naples-Marco Island, Fla. that wellness indices suggest may be challenging them. Wellness indices weight factors such as health insurance coverage and economic security more heavily than is appropriate for a fitness index. Without reliable exercise and other data to hand, we have erred on the side of caution.
A final word on why we have compiled this ranking. We believe that being fit is an integral part of an individual's feeling of a life well lived. The Active Times wants to celebrate those places that make that more possible. And to encourage cities to do more in this regard.
Studies suggest that fit cities have lower healthcare costs and more productive populations, giving them a competitive economic advantage. Cities have a strong self interest in making themsleves as fitness-friendly as they can be. We just want our readers to have as many and varied ways to stay fit as they can get.