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DC area is first in fitness for the third straight year

The American College of Sports Medicine is out with its annual American Fitness Index, which ranks 50 major metropolitan areas. Washington, D.C. is No. 1 for the third time straight.

WASHINGTON — It seems D.C. might be the nation’s fitness capital.

The American College of Sports Medicine is out with its annual American Fitness Index, which ranks 50 major metropolitan areas. For the third year in a row, Washington, D.C. is No. 1.

The index scores cities not only on the healthy habits of their residents, but also on the quality of their fitness infrastructure. In both cases, the D.C. region — the city and its neighboring suburbs — rated high.

“The real message about Washington, D.C. is that almost 80 percent of the population reports that they exercise and exercise regularly,” said Walter Thompson, the Georgia State University professor who heads the advisory board that compiled the rankings.

That’s substantially higher than last year, when 73 percent of local residents said they exercised regularly.

Why such a high rate?

Thompson suggested looking at the support fitness gets from local governments around the region.

In the D.C. area, 96 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and government spending on parks is roughly $346 per person per year. Compare that with Indianapolis — No. 50 on the list — where spending is about $60 per person, and only about 30 percent of the population lives within 10 minutes of a park.

“I think D.C. has a lot of amenities that make it easy to be physically fit,” said Dr. Nailah Coleman, a pediatric sports medicine specialist with the Children’s National Health System.

She points to those parks, along with the growing access to bike lanes and local farmers markets.

But Coleman said there are some troublesome areas that aren’t measured by the American Fitness Index. She notes child obesity remains a problem in the region, and not enough schools are offering physical education classes for kids.

Of particular concern are socioeconomic conditions that hamper the ability of residents of the area’s most disadvantaged areas to engage in fitness activities.

Coleman said she knows of parents in some neighborhoods who are scared to send their children outside to play, adding “even though parks may be close to them, they don’t feel comfortable being there and getting there on their own.”  

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