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Low Smoking Rates, Above-Average Exercise Rates Help Put Twin Cities at Top of List

May 24, 2011 -- Minneapolis-St. Paul has plenty of parks and recreational facilities, an increasing number of farmers markets, and low smoking rates. Those attributes helped the Twin Cities garner the No. 1 spot in the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2011 list of America’s fittest cities.

Washington, D.C., which had claimed the top spot for the past three years, dropped to No. 2 in part because the Twin Cities recorded greater improvements in healthy behavior measures and a reduction in the percentage of cigarette smokers.

Other positive factors included an above-average percentage of residents who exercise and moderate-to-low rates of chronic health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.

Even though the Twin Cities reduced park-related expenditures in 2011, the area’s percentage of parkland is still above average, and so is its percentage of recreational facilities other than swimming pools, according to a report from the American College of Sports Medicine, which was made possible by a grant from the Indianapolis-based WellPoint Foundation.

Fitness and Health Rankings

Farmers markets in the area increased in 2011 compared to last year, suggesting a trend in healthier eating.

The ranking, based on scientific data from state and federal sources, including the CDC, is intended as a tool to help communities evaluate health and fitness factors that need to be maintained or improved.

“The scores and rankings from this report indicate which metro areas are more fit and which ones are less fit,” says Walter Thompson, PhD, chair of the American Fitness Index advisory board. “Although Minneapolis ranked first, there is room for improvement.”

The AFI report reflects a composite of preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access, and community resources and policies that support physical fitness.

Thompson says in a news release that a regular, scientifically based evaluation of infrastructure, policies, assets, and opportunities could encourage cities to take steps to provide a higher quality of life and better health for their residents.

The ACSM says it received a $171,880 grant from the WellPoint Foundation to present the 2011 data and establish pilot programs to improve health. It says it plans to provide technical assistance to low-ranking metro areas to help them improve fitness and health in their communities.

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