Your fitness level might start with your zip code

Column by Andrea W. Doray
Posted 1/16/19

How can local communities encourage and facilitate active lifestyles among their residents? How can they increase access to and use of gyms and recreational facilities? How can parents encourage …

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Your fitness level might start with your zip code

Posted

How can local communities encourage and facilitate active lifestyles among their residents? How can they increase access to and use of gyms and recreational facilities? How can parents encourage children to be more active?

These are intriguing questions posed by researchers in their recent report on the “Best & Worst Cities for an Active Lifestyle.” In the study published by WalletHub, a personal finance website, the Denver area scored in the top 10 best at #8. Perhaps not surprisingly, Honolulu ranked #1, with (perhaps surprisingly) cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Washington, D.C., preceding us.

Colorado Springs weighed in at #33, and Aurora, which was evaluated separately, landed at #55. Hialeah, FL, was dead last at #100, beating out North Las Vegas and Bakersfield, CA, for the bottom spot.

Colorado communities took three out of the five top spots for “lowest percentage of physically inactive adults.” Colorado Springs ranked third behind Portland and Seattle, and Denver and Aurora tied for fourth with Raleigh, NC.

In any such ranking exercise, researchers consider multiple factors. For example, the authors looked at the numbers, per capita, of swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, fitness centers, baseball and softball diamonds, soccer fields, and – particularly beneficial for our rankings – hiking, walking, running and biking trails.

As fun and interesting as these results might be, however, it’s those questions above that seem to be the heart of the issue. As the authors noted, “… maintaining a healthy lifestyle not only improves quality of life, but it’s also a much cheaper alternative to fighting and preventing illness.”

The researchers consulted experts like Susan G. Zieff, Ph.D., Director, Active Living Across the Lifespan Research Group at San Francisco State University to ask their opinions about access to and use of recreational facilities. Dr. Zieff noted that accessible community resources help ensure that residents’ individual health is not dictated by the neighborhoods where they live.

With the beginning of this new year, many of us are evaluating – or re-evaluating – our goals for a healthy life. For some, like me, losing weight is a part of that equation, although I’m more focused on my overall health than on how my jeans fit. Strength, stamina and the ability to enjoy mountain biking, golf and rock climbing are my objectives, with a major emphasis on preventing illness and disease.

Also, with both new and returning state and local governments as well as new state leadership in the governor’s office, we have additional opportunities to consider our communities’ goals for healthy lifestyles and how we as residents can help.

Dr. Zieff, as quoted in the study, said, “Increasing safety in neighborhoods and providing destinations such as parks will encourage people to be more active.” She suggests strategies such as bike lanes, open space and parks, sidewalks and adequate lighting. And no matter how much progress we have already made locally, we always have room for improvement.

As we continue to engage with our communities and our leaders, I encourage all of us to join together to advocate for and help provide access to healthy lifestyle options.

P.S. One of questions posed by the researchers was whether the presence of pro sports teams in a city encourages residents to be more active. What do you think?

Andrea Doray is a writer who appreciates every additional minute of the lengthening days and contemplates how to use them to get healthier. Contact her at a.doray@andreadoray.com.

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