America’s healthiest cities are … where?

The American College of Sports Medicine changes its annual evaluation to comparatively evaluate cites rather than metropolitan areas.

For the past decade, the American College of Sports Medicine has issued its annual American Fitness Index® report that identifies America’s healthiest urban areas.

Until this year, the index included America’s 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), but the decision was made in 2018 to switch to incorporated cities. The new Index covers the 100 largest such entities.

Why was the change made? According to the ACSM, the older approach “provided important and valuable general messages, but limited the ability to provide targeted assistance to city and community leaders that need specific data at the local level.”

In addition to allowing more localized data to be studied, the new approach enables cities in states that weren’t represented at all in previous years to be included.

As for the various health measures comparatively studied, they remain the same – 33 indicators available from up-to-date, publicly accessible sources.

To build the ranking, the 33 indicators were combined to create sub-scores for “personal health” and “community and environment categories. Individual indicators were weighted relative to their impact on community fitness, and then combined to create the ultimate ranking.

The personal health indicators consisted of behaviors like eating habits, exercise and smoking as well as outcomes like health conductions (incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc.)

Community/environment indicators covered factors like the built environment (parkland as a percent of city geographic size, walking/bicycle trails, etc.), recreational facilities (playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts, etc.), and policy and funding factors.

Putting it all together, America’s healthiest city achieves a 77.7 overall score (out of a possible 100.0 points). Shown below is the Top Ten ranking among America’s 100 largest cities for the ASCM’s American Fitness Index:

#1. Arlington, VA

#2. Minneapolis, MN

#3. Washington, DC

#4. Madison, WI

#5. Portland, OR

#6. Seattle, WA

#7. Denver, CO

#8. St. Paul, MN

#9. San Jose, CA

#10. Boise, ID

Notice the propensity of cities located in the northern reaches of the United States. Several of these I know first-hand, having lived and worked in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul.  I completely understand that the ACSM’s report means when it cites the following factors for #2-rank Minneapolis:

“Building culture of physical activity isn’t done overnight. Minneapolis, MN reaps the rewards of early planning to set aside important parklands and establish a semiautonomous parks board to maintain and protect the lands, featuring over 6,800 acres in the park system and 102 miles of biking and walking paths.” 

A Minneapolis lake — two miles from downtown.

[It doesn’t hurt that Minneapolis has seven good-sized natural lakes plus a 20-mile meandering creek within the city limits; what else would one do but put parks, green spaces and trails around them?  That would be a no-brainer decision even a century ago, when “fitness” wasn’t quite the same universally accepted aspirational goal.]

Commenting on Arlington as being the #1-ranked city, the ACSM’s report noted:

“Arlington, VA is home to the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, Civil War battlefields, great local parks, as well as many people living healthy lifestyles.”

Arlington, VA: Hugging the Potomac River just south of Washington, DC.

When we dip into the next group of 10 cities on the listing, we do see the appearance of several located in the southern portions of the country:

#11. Oakland, CA

#12. Plano, TX

#13. Irvine, CA

#14. San Francisco, CA

#15. Boston, MA

#16. San Diego, CA

#17. Lincoln, NE

#18. Raleigh, NC

#19. Fremont, CA

#20. Atlanta, GA

Who’s at the bottom of the heap? Some of the cities might not surprise you, but a few seem curious to me.  How can it be that the two largest cities in Oklahoma end up at or near the bottom?  And what’s up with Indianapolis and Louisville?

#91. Tulsa, OK

#92. North Las Vegas, NV

#93. Gilbert, AZ

#94. Fresno, CA

#95. Wichita, KS

#96. Toledo, OH

#97. Detroit, MI

#98. Louisville, KY

#99. Indianapolis, IN

#100. Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City: “Hey, let’s hit the streets for a jog!”

If any readers have insights they can share about these “bottom of the barrel” cities, we’re all ears.

To find out how each of the 100 largest cities ranked in the 2018 ASCM evaluation — along with seeing details on the 33 indicators studied to build the American Fitness Index, click here.

Fitbit aims to become the “check engine” light for the body.

… But first it needs to convince consumers that wearables are a “need-to-have” versus a “nice-to-have” product.

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Between Fitbits, Apple Watches and other “wearables,” I suspect the holiday season this year will be full of gift-giving of these and other types of interactive gadgetry.

The question is – how many of these items will still be being used by the end of the next year?

According to a recent online survey of ~9,600 consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia conducted by market research firm Gartner, many of these wearable devices will be destined for the dresser drawer.

The abandonment rate for smartwatches is expected to be ~29%, while for fitness trackers, it’s forecast to be nearly the same at ~30%.

Part of the problem is that while most people typically purchase these products for themselves, more than one-third of fitness trackers and more than a quarter of smartwatches are given as gifts.

When gadgets like these are gifted, often it’s “easy-come, easy-go.”

The Fitbit company knows about these dynamics all-too well. According to an article earlier this month in The Wall Street Journal, the company is struggling to develop its next generation of products and to attract new users.

While that’s going on, for this holiday season, Fitbit’s sales are forecast to grow only in the 2% to 5% range, as compared to double-digit increases in prior quarters.

Essentially, what Fitbit and other brands need to do is to move consumers to start considering wearables as “need-to-have” rather than “nice to have” products — and to avoid the dreaded “fad” moniker (as in “for-a-day”).

This imperative helps explain Fitbit’s attempts to position its products as ones that measure long-term health conditions rather than being simply fitness trackers.

The notion is that physicians could start prescribing Fitbit devices to track patients’ vital signs in heart health, or physical therapists doing the same to help monitor their patients’ at-home exercise routines.

Fitbit is also working on developing trackers that can detect and diagnose long-term health conditions. To that end, what’s critical is to come up with defining functions that other gadgets can’t perform.

Otherwise, consumers are less likely to be interested — figuring that they can get the same kind of functionality out of other devices they already own.

In the meantime, look for wearables to be under the tree this holiday season … and then for many of them to be stuffed in a drawer someplace by next summer.

Jack LaLanne at 95: Fit for the Ages

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger congratulates Jack LaLanne on his 95th birthday (September 2009).
Woods. McGwire. Vick. Harding. Rodriguez. In the world of sports and fitness, it seems that every other day someone is falling from grace. “Larger than life” seems inevitably to be followed by “all too human.”

But we have at least one sports hero who has forged a career refreshingly clear of controversy … and who has done so for nearly a century.

When Jack LaLanne opened the world’s first modern “fitness club” in Oakland, CA in 1935 at the age of 21, no one could have predicted that he’d still be a fixture in the world of sports some 75 years later.

“I can’t die. It would ruin my image!” he’s quoted as saying. But LaLanne certainly doesn’t have to worry about his image. At 95 years old, he remains one of America’s greatest proponents of health and fitness, communicating his message of exercise and good nutrition to all who will listen.

And unlike the hype surrounding so many other sports celebrities, LaLanne practices what he preaches: He works out at least two hours each day, concentrating on stretch and pull exercises plus swimming.

The story of Jack LaLanne was not always fitness and health, however. Like Charles Atlas, another bodybuilding and fitness pioneer, LaLanne hardly grew up as the picture of strength. But it was a teen-age encounter with nutrition pioneer Paul Bragg that inspired LaLanne to dramatically change his daily routine by joining the local YMCA in the San Francisco Bay area, becoming involved in bodybuilding and high school sports, and focusing on healthy eating.

It wasn’t long before LaLanne was experimenting with new weight training equipment of his own design, attracting a steady stream of policemen, firefighters and neighborhood toughs to his family’s backyard – which would lead to opening his first fitness center just a few years later.

The list of “firsts” in Jack LaLanne’s career in fitness is certainly impressive:

 The first host of a nationally syndicated television exercise show (1951).

 The first person to open a coed health club (eventually to become the 200-unit European Health Spa chain, later sold to Bally). At age 41, swimming the entire length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge underwater, with 140 lbs. of equipment – a world record.

 At age 42, becoming the world-record holder for pushups (1,033 in 23 minutes).

 The first person to promote weight training for women and older adults.

 The first sports personality to endorse vitamins and exercise equipment on the TV airwaves.

(Coincidentally, LaLanne was also one of the first sports celebrities to warn against the dangers of smoking – long before medical science would come to the same conclusion.)

The Jack LaLanne Show would continue on television for 35 years. But the then 71-year-old host was certainly not ready to retire. Instead, he’s remained active as an author, spokesperson and motivational speaker on health and fitness in the 25 years since.

Moving easily between the world of sports and entertainment, Jack LaLanne has been awarded a lifetime achievement award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports (1996) … along with getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2002). And at age 95, LaLanne isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, his eleventh book on fitness, Live Young Forever, was published just last year.

“Dying is easy. Living, you’ve got to work at,” LaLanne is fond of saying. By the looks of it, Jack LaLanne has certainly followed his own medicine – and it’s worked out beautifully for him.