Children and adolescents should engage in at least one hour of age-appropriate physical activity per day, recommends the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This should include aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities. Unfortunately, only one in four teenagers get the recommended amount of exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Access to safe parks, playgrounds and recreational areas is a key factor underlying obesity, illustrating how where you live can affect your children’s health. Here are four cities where the urban recreational environment makes it easier to raise active kids.
Each year the American College of Sports Medicine’s American Fitness Index ranks the fitness of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. The ranking takes into account criteria such as personal health measures, preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions and environmental and community support for active, healthy lifestyles. In 2015, Washington, D.C. topped the AFI for the second year in a row. Washington’s population got more exercise than other cities due to the close walking distance between residential housing and the area’s abundant parks, recreational facilities, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools. Washington’s apartments are also conducive to fitness, boasting more swimming pools, playgrounds and fitness centers than other metropolitan areas, according to Apartment Guide data.
Minneapolis has ranked among the American Fitness Index’s top five healthiest cities since 2009 and topped the AFI from 2011 to 2013. In 2015, Livability ranked Minneapolis as the healthiest city in America. The Minneapolis park system covers 17 percent of the city’s land and has been called the best in the country by organizations such as the Trust for Public Land. Recreational facilities abound, with exceptionally high numbers of parks, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and golf courses. Minneapolis residents also enjoy easy access to spots for outdoor activities such as biking, hiking and cross-country skiing. The area is further blessed with abundant lakes, providing easy access to water activities such as swimming and kayaking.
Three California cities took the remaining top five spots on AFI’s list, with San Diego coming in ahead of San Francisco and Sacramento. San Diego’s great weather and ocean access make it a natural spot for exercise enthusiasts. San Diego has the most active population in the country, with the highest percentage of residents who work out regularly, according to Prevention. Nearly a quarter of the metropolitan area is devoted to parkland, making for abundant play areas. With 70 miles of beaches along with mountains, canyons and deserts, the area promotes high levels of outdoor activities. With an environment so conducive to exercise, an exceptionally high percentage of San Diego residents meet both the CDC’s aerobic and strength activity guidelines.
The Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metropolitan area came in sixth on the American Fitness Index list of America’s healthiest cities. BetterDoctor ranked the Denver-Aurora area highly for its exceptional number of park acres per resident, high percentage of residents with healthy weight, and high percentage of residents who exercise. Eighty-three percent of housing in Denver is within a 10-minute walk to a park, and the city also has an exceptionally high number of swimming pools. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Rocky Mountains allow for plenty of hiking, camping, skiing and snowboarding. The Denver area’s well-maintained parks and culture of exercise combine to place it among the best places to raise an active family.