As a leader in sports medicine and exercise science, ACSM uses its research expertise to provide the 2015 American Fitness Index report as a reliable measure of community fitness for the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.
Cities that ranked near the top of the index have more strengths that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it.
The opposite is true for cities near the bottom of the index.
Walter R. Thompson, PhD, discusses the 2015 American Fitness Index Report and why it's important for you and your family members.Click HERE to listen to Part 2 of the interview.
RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: May 19, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Walter R. Thompson, PhD
Your trainer, Melanie Cole is here to motivate and help you perform. It's time now for Train Your Body.
MELANIE: In 2008, the American College of Sports Medicine launched the ACSM American Fitness Index program in partnership with the Anthem Foundation. This report measures the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the United States and it breaks them down for you on the fitness level based on so many factors that you cannot even imagine that they are able to put together this report. My guest today is one of my absolute favorite guests here on Train Your Body, Dr. Walter Thompson. He is a Regents’ Professor of Exercise Science in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University. He is also the one in charge of this massive undertaking of the American Fitness Index. So, tell us what's going on this year, Dr. Thompson.
DR THOMPSON: Hey, Melanie, it's always great to talk with you. The American Fitness Index is published today. We had the big unveiling today and to no one’s real surprise, Washington DC came out on top again as number one. Number two is Minneapolis, which is always surprising. Maybe we can spend some time on Minneapolis there are really interesting things happening there. But the real big surprise this year, up from number eight in 2014 is San Diego, at number three. Some real significant things happening in a lot of the California cities and maybe if we have time, we can focus on a couple of them as well.
MELANIE: You mentioned Washington, DC, as being number one. I wouldn’t think of that as being number one but it's been a couple of years. Why is Washington, DC? It doesn’t seem like it's got a lot of open areas, parks golf courses, all those things that you take into account.
DR THOMPSON: Yes, and Minneapolis is a surprise, too, isn’t it? In 2013, Minneapolis was number one. It flipped to number two last year and stayed at number two. But you know what? In Minneapolis, folks know that between about October 1st and April 1st, it's going to be wet and cold right? Same thing in Washington, DC. So, what they have done in these cities and really in the top 10 of our 50 most populated cities in the American Fitness Index is they understand that in the wintertime particularly, they have to find places indoors to exercise. So, you walk down the street of Minneapolis and it seems like every other storefront is either a commercial health club or a community-based organization or a recreation center run by the cities.
So, they make these conscious, really conscious decisions to put their money and their resources where it's going to be the most benefit. So, let me focus a little bit on Washington, DC. One of the things that is a really interesting is the comparison between the one number city and the number 56. One of the things we look at is not just how many parks, for example, are in a city but how much money do we spend on keeping them up, making them safe and welcoming for the folks who live in the city. Washington DC spends $287 per resident on their parks. Indianapolis, who came in number 50, and this is a trend in the bottom 10 of our cities, Indianapolis spends $24 per resident…
DR THOMPSON: …on their parks. A huge difference, right?
MELANIE: Wow. And you don’t expect to hear the Midwest like Indianapolis the home of the American College of Sports Medicine. You expect those Southern States because of the fatty food or because of the rural atmosphere but that’s an odd thing. Then, as you say, Minneapolis being in the tundra is able to put these things forward and spend the money. How do you think that happens?
DR THOMPSON: Well, because the city will just make this very conscious decision that that’s what they are going to do. Let me give you an example of Atlanta. Atlanta is my hometown. Our mayor, who was elected now six years ago, is in his second term. The previous mayor made the decision, between 2007 and 2010, when the city was being hit by the recession, to close every one of Atlanta's recreation centers. Every one of them. When our new mayor came on board six years ago, he was determined to open up every single one of those recreation centers, and every single one of them is open today.
So, that’s just an example of a mayor and city leaders making, again, that conscious decision to open up recreation facilities to allow kids and adults in the neighborhoods just around those recreation centers to exercise, and exercise safely. Another example in Atlanta, and I hate to use Atlanta as an example but I live here and I'm so proud of the fact that we moved up to number 14 this year.
MELANIE: You did move up to number 14. Yes, you did.
DR THOMPSON: We did. And something that we’ll find it a greater impact in years to come because the project’s not done yet is, the Atlanta BeltLine. Again another conscious decision made by city leaders, and with public and private funding opened up 22 miles of walking, jogging and bicycling paths that surround the city of Atlanta. So, you literary can get on your bike and ride around the perimeter of Atlanta on the BeltLine.
MELANIE: See that’s really cool, and as you say Dr. Thompson that’s a conscious effort. People think of places like Boulder where everybody is hiking and they are all natural and they are biking everywhere and all of that. While Denver is up on the list for sure at number six, that seems to be less of a conscious and more of an environmental…It just goes with the territory.
DR THOMPSON: That’s right, and there are certain pockets of communities and I use the examples of California cities because the folks that live in California and particularly along the coast and in -- Los Angeles is not a great example because it fell a little bit. But cities like Sacramento and San Diego, all those folks that live there are conscious of their health, and they create public policy. Like for example, indoor and outdoor smoking bans. They make these public policies that promote good health.
MELANIE: So, I think that when they make those policies, they look at this overall -- I mean it blows me away every year, Dr. Thompson, how you’re able to compile all of this information from medical reports and park district and money spent. People can go to Americanfitnessindex.org, that’s americanfitnessindex.org and see the 2015 report, see the work that these folks at ACSM put into this so that we can look at our communities. Because that's really the goal isn’t it, Dr. Thompson? So, that we can look at our own communities and say what can we do, a little bit of a competition, “What can we do to rise ourselves up that list? What can I do to get involved?” Give your best advice in the last minute. And we are going to talk in another segment about some more of these areas but what can they do in their communities to try and get in on this competition and rise up that list a little bit?
DR THOMPSON: This is a great question, Melanie, and we provided the answer for folks who live in these cities. We have created what is called a community action guide. You can go to the americanfitnessindex.org website and we have this community action guide ready for you to download free of charge. And it's full of ideas on how you as an individual living in a city, in your community can make some significant changes. How to approach your mayor, how to approach your city council, how to put pressure on the leaders within the city, to make significant changes.
MELANIE: I think that’s great information and the website is americanfitnessindex.org and you can download for free the action guide that they put out. Because if you do that listeners you can take this action guide, print it out at your local library and take it to one of your board meetings, take it to a meeting of your community members and show it to them and say "We need to rise up on this list and this is how we can do it and this has been put out for us."
It’s information that is succinctly put out on things that you can do to make your community more active and healthier all around. It includes everything from smoking cessation, to food deserts, to park ways, park districts, bike paths. I mean, you cannot imagine what these guys put into this. So go to americanfitnessindex.org and read about it. We are going to talk more as we come up about the American Fitness Index right here on your Train Your Body with the American College of Sports Medicine.
I'm Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening and stay well.