The American Fitness Index recently released its annual report on America’s fittest cities and — good news! — 2013 saw Cleveland break into the top 20 with a ranking of 19th. For the past several years, Cleveland has ranked in the top half of the 50 Fittest Cities, but this past year saw a big jump from 23rd in 2012.
This is certainly cause for celebration, but there is always room for improvement. Let’s take a look at how the rankings are determined to see how our city can continue to show a dedication to fitness.
Learning from Number One
2013 marks the third year in a row that Minneapolis has been ranked the fittest city in America. In addition to having low cardiovascular death rates, Minneapolis also makes a big financial commitment to having healthier residents. Their parks budget breaks down to $227 per person, which is more than double the budget of many other cities on the list. By investing in resources, Minneapolis gives its residents better access to opportunities for fitness and increased activity.
Despite frigid temperatures much of the year, biking, walking and running are popular activities throughout the area. The city boasts 182 parks — more per square mile than any other city in America, according to a Today show segment that featured its efforts. It hosts year-round programming at those parks, from a 5K in -9 degree weather to Zumba classes and play sessions for toddlers at nearby gyms available to all families, regardless of income. The Mall of America even hosts a Mall Stars walking program that helps members track their progress and offers rewards that include discounts and monthly motivational breakfasts.
There’s also an effort to teach children to eat better. The Urban Roots program works with high schoolers who live in “food deserts” where fresh produce isn’t as readily available, teaching them gardening and cooking skills. The city offers a wide variety of farmers markets that make it easier to select healthy options, and all major markets accept food stamps.
What Can Cleveland Do Better?
Cleveland already has a robust metroparks system with more than two dozen locations and a variety of programming, but more opportunities in urban areas could improve the health of residents who lack access to transportation. There are other steps Cleveland can take to compete. The index also looks at obesity rates, access to health care, smoking rates, availability of recreational facilities and farmers’ markets.
Not all citywide changes have to be expensive or complicated, either. For instance, Cleveland has a smoke ban in restaurants and bars, but extending that ban to all public places — including parks and outdoor seating at restaurants — would make a strong statement about the city’s commitment to health. Additional farmers market locations in urban areas could also go a long way to improve the health of all residents.
Taking Responsibility for Your Own Heart Health
As Clevelanders, we can offer all kinds of excuses about why we aren’t in better shape — it’s too cold, we can’t afford a gym membership, preparing our own meals is more time-consuming than picking up frozen dinners — but we have to take responsibility to improve our own fitness. That can start with small steps, like making the decision to drink water with our meals instead of pop or committing to walking three days a week. After all, our city’s overall rating begins and ends with you. The better you take care of yourself, the more likely we are to see things like our cardiovascular death rate and obesity rates decrease.
How would you like to see Cleveland improve its fitness ranking? What health opportunities do you wish you had? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments.