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Survival of the fittest – cities that is

Which is the fittest of them all? One sports medicine group says it knows which cities are the most fit and least fit. Is your business in one?

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The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota knocked off Washington, D.C., as the “fittest city” in 2011, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

This is the first time for the Twin Cities at the top of the American Fitness Index list (available by clicking here), which ranks the country’s 50 most populous metro areas. But the ranking was no surprise to Jason Byrd, an employee at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis.

“I feel like we just have a lot of opportunities to get out,” Byrd said. Some of the more popular activities – based on what’s selling well in the store – are paddling, trail running and bicycling. “The mentality of people around here is to get out and be very active.”

This is the fifth year the American Fitness Index has ranked cities (click here to see a 2008 SNEWS story about AFI rankings), with one of those years being a pilot study of 17 cities in the United States, said Walter Thompson, Ph.D., the chair of the AFI Advisory Board for the sports medicine group.

“It’s exciting to see Minneapolis move up in the ranking,” Thompson said. The other healthiest cities are, in order, Washington, D.C.; Boston; Portland, Ore.; and Denver, while the least fit are Indianapolis; Detroit; Birmingham, Ala.; Memphis, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; and Oklahoma City, Okla.

In third-ranked Boston, fitness equipment retailer Matthew Byrne, who owns Xtreme Fitness Equipment, said people in his city prefer the gym and the trails. He’s noticed an increased interest in the ElliptiGO (click here to see a SNEWS story about this new fitness trend), a stand-up bicycle that uses an elliptical-like motion for power, because people want to combine the two.

“People are finding other ways to get fitness done outside,” Byrne said. He also said indoor elliptical machines remain a popular choice among his clients.

Byrd said the Twin Cities have a good amount of bike trails and parks, something that was measured in the study, which also took into account smoking rates, rates of chronic diseases, amount of exercising residents and farmers’ markets in the area, among other things.

Byrd said many Twin Cities residents, including himself and many of his co-workers, prefer commuting to work via bicycles. Byrd said he rides his bike 365 days a year, something he said impresses others given the harsh Minnesota winters.

“I actually think bicycling is the winter is warmer than sitting in the cold car and waiting for it to warm up,” Byrd said. He acknowledged he has access to quality gear at the store but noted anybody can dress warmly to “keep cold air out.” Sales of bicycling gear are steady throughout the year, he said, because people are so fond of bicycling in the Twin Cities.

Morgan Gray, a sales associate at Outdoor Divas in the fifth-ranked city of Denver, said she thinks it’s Denver’s mountainous environment that keeps its residents healthy and fit.

“The environment that we live in – we’ve got the mountains and a lot of lakes – makes people just want to be outside a lot,” Gray said. “We’ve got 300 days of sunshine.” 

Gray said the most popular items in the women’s store are running and biking skorts. Sales of running items remain steady throughout the year but the biking apparel dips during the winter, Gray said. She said, however, she’s noticed an uptick in the amount of apparel the store has sold this summer.

“There’s just so much biking and cycling going on. There are lots of teams and organizations,” Gray said.

Thompson said he’d hoped to see the lower-ranked cities take more initiative.

“We’re most disappointed that some of the cities that are down in the lower part in the rankings haven’t done as much as we would hope to move up on the list,” Thompson said. He said that cities on the lower half of the list are eligible for free technical assistance from the team at ACSM. Currently the organization is working with Oklahoma City’s mayor Mick Cornett to see what the city’s leaders can do to help make short-term and long-term changes in the population’s health.

Scott Burris, owner of Oklahoma City’s BodyQuest Fitness, said a “majority of (customers) are not in the high-fit category,” he said. “Most of them want to be fit and healthy.”

Burris is helping customers achieve that goal by offering a unique equipment rental program.

“It allows people to have access to high quality equipment at a quality price,” Burris said. “For many people having the equipment in the home gives them an opportunity to find out whether or not they’re dedicated. It gives them a better idea or better desire to exercise their fitness.”

Thompson said leaders and business owners in cities on the lower end of the rankings could visit to find out more information on how to take advantage of the technical help ACSM offers, which could include getting retailers or big box stores involved in helping get citizens more active, Thompson said.

Thompson said retailers could potentially be the “people on the ground to help (residents).”

–Ana Trujillo