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Minneapolis is third and St. Paul is 12th in ‘fittest cities’ rankings for 2020

Now in its 13th year, the Fitness Index bases its rankings on 33 separate indicators in two major categories: personal health and community/environment.

MinnPost file photo by Steve Date
Minneapolis scored fifth in the personal health category and second in the community/environment one.
Minneapolis is one of the 10 “fittest cities” in the United States, and St. Paul isn’t too far behind, according to the 2020 American Fitness Index report released Tuesday by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Anthem Foundation.

In the report, which gives fitness scores to the country’s 100 largest cities, Minneapolis is ranked third, right behind Arlington, Virginia, and Seattle, Washington (the same order as last year), while St. Paul takes 12th place. Last year, St. Paul was ranked seventh.

Both cities can claim bragging rights, however. “Cities with the highest scores are considered to have strong community fitness, a concept analogous to individuals having strong personal fitness,” the report explains. “Cities that rank near the top of the Fitness Index have more strengths and resources that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it. The opposite is true for cities near the bottom of the rankings.”

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How the scoring was done

Now in its 13th year, the Fitness Index bases its rankings on 33 separate indicators in two major categories: personal health and community/environment.

The personal health category includes behavioral factors such as diet and exercise, as well as rates of asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical conditions.

The community/environmental health category includes factors such as air quality (poor air discourages physical activity), “bikeability,” frequency of farmers markets, and number of parks and other public recreational facilities (like basketball hoops, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and swimming pools).

Minneapolis scored fifth in the personal health category and second in the community/environment one.  It tops the list for both bikeability (scoring 83.5 out of 100) and for park funding (with $236 per resident).

It also ranked among the top 10 cities for quite a few other indicators, including the percentage of people walking or biking to work, the percentage living within a 10-minute walk to a park, the number of farmers markets per 1 million residents, the number of baseball diamonds per 10,000 residents, and the percentage of people in excellent or very good health.

Minneapolis’ weakest score (or “areas of opportunity,” as the report calls them) was for vegetable consumption. It also could use a stronger Complete Streets policy, one that makes sure roads are designed in a way that makes them safe and convenient for all modes of travel.

St. Paul ranked only 34th in the personal health category, but first in the community/environment one. It also tops the list for two specific indicators: lowest pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 residents and the number of baseball diamonds per 10,000 residents.

It ranked among the top 10 cities for some other individual indicators, including the percentage of people with a low rate of high blood pressure, the percentage within a 10-minute walk to a park, the number of recreation centers for every 20,000 residents and the number of baseball diamonds and basketball hoops per 10,000 residents.

St. Paul’s “areas of opportunity” were primarily in the personal health category, where the city scored below the 100-city average for a number of personal health behaviors and health outcomes.

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General findings

Across all 100 cities, several indicators showed improvements this year. More people are exercising. Fewer people are smoking. And increased numbers of city dwellers now have a park within a 10-minute walk (although the funding of parks remained stagnant).

In addition, the overall bikeability score of the 100 cities has improved.

Yet very few people (only 4.5 percent) bike — or walk — to work. And only 7 percent use public transportation.

It’s not all that surprising, therefore, that the report found only 22 percent of adults living in the 100 cities currently meet the U.S. physical activity guidelines for both aerobic and strength-building activities.

The authors of this year’s report point out that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of making sure city dwellers have the opportunities and infrastructure to lead physically active, healthy lifestyles.

“We know from research that physical activity can build a healthier immune system and overall wellness, which help minimize harmful effects of illness and disease,” says Barbara Ainsworth, chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board, in a released statement. “This pandemic shows the need to have local parks, trails and connected sidewalks in all neighborhoods that allow people to exercise safely.”

“City leaders and planners need to act boldly and decisively to enact policies and funding to promote physical activity, better health and stronger communities,” she adds.

The top (and bottom) 10

Here is the full list of the 10 “fittest” cities in this year’s rankings:

1. Arlington, Virginia
2. Seattle, Washington
3. Minneapolis, Minnesota
4. Madison, Wisconsin
5. San Francisco, California
6. Washington, D.C.
7. Irvine, California
8. Denver, Colorado
9. Boise, Idaho
10. Boston, Massachusetts

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Here are the 10 “least-fit” cities in this year’s rankings:

91.  Wichita, Kansas
92.  Fort Wayne, Indiana
93.  Arlington, Texas
94.  Indianapolis, Indiana
95.  Detroit, Michigan
96.  Memphis, Tennessee
97.  Tulsa, Oklahoma
98.  North Las Vegas, Nevada
99.  Bakersfield, California
100. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

FMI: You can read the full report — and also use an interactive online tool to compare city to city — on the American Fitness Index website.