Best and Worst Cities for Active Lifestyles

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Photo via Shutterstock

Photo via Shutterstock 


During the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, the ability to maintain physical activity can be challenging due to the closure of fitness facilities. Many people have resorted to outdoor fitness to achieve physical activity while maintaining social distancing. WalletHub compared and scored 100 cities across the US for the best and worst cities for active lifestyles. 

Our Professor, Dr. Susan Zieff, shares her advice on introducing positive changes both at home and at the policy level.

Q: How can local communities encourage and facilitate active lifestyles among residents?

Dr. Zieff: The key to facilitating activity among all residents is to provide safe, convenient, easy to access, and free or low-cost resources. Examples would include sidewalks of good quality to encourage older individuals and those with mobility disabilities to walk; open space areas (e. g. parks and playgrounds) to support the activity of children; and a wide variety of other features (e. g. bike lanes, sports fields) for individuals and groups across the lifespan. Besides, stakeholders must consider how to distribute resources equitably across communities so that specific income groups do not experience limitations of resources. The evidence is clear that low-income communities, in general, have fewer available resources for physical activity; this is one variable in their overall higher rates of chronic diseases. Additional features are needed to ensure that the available resources are usable; these include lighting to increase safety, aesthetic elements to attract users, and amenities (e. g. restrooms) to support use.

Q: Does the presence of professional sports teams in a city encourage residents to be more active? Should cities subsidize professional sports franchises through tax incentives and facilities?

Dr. Zieff: Economic analyses suggest that the facilities needed to support sports teams do not generally benefit the broader population. Employment opportunities are typically low-paying and seasonal and even construction workers may be brought in from other locations.

Q: How can we increase access to and use of gyms and recreational facilities? Would incentives - such as tax deductions for gym memberships - or penalties - such as higher health care premiums - be more effective?

Dr. Zieff: From my perspective, fee-based entities such as gyms, are not the most efficient or effective way to increase activity among the population. Some groups may not feel welcome at these facilities and they may not be able to access them for a variety of reasons (e. g. transportation, cost, time). Cities and local communities will succeed much more in increasing activity levels of the population by improving “built environment” features that support activity across the lifespan and across ability levels.

Q: What tips do you have for someone looking to maintain an active lifestyle on a budget?

Dr. Zieff: The CDC strongly recommends walking for most adults who have the ability and a safe environment. It is low-cost, can be done with others, and is an effective way to reduce risk factors for chronic diseases. To increase the intensity, walkers can change speed and include stairways or hills in their walking routes. Children should be encouraged to play in open spaces and to explore natural areas when available.

Q: What tips do you have for people who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle until gyms and recreational facilities can fully reopen again?

Dr. Zieff: Many online sources offer group exercise classes (e. g. yoga, pilates, strength training, etc.); these can be an effective way to maintain or increase strength and flexibility, two areas that are limited with stay-at-home time. Most of these sites offer free or low-cost classes. Again, walking or biking, offer easy ways to maintain or build cardiovascular capacity.

Q: How can parents encourage children to be active in order to combat obesity?

Dr. Zieff: One of the best ways for parents to encourage children to be active is to be active with them. Offering children a variety of activities will keep it interesting and engaging with them models good habits that children will carry with them for a lifetime. For some parents, this will be challenging because of work schedules or limited access to safe and convenient resources. For these families, school-based online physical education classes are a good way to keep children moving.


See full article on WalletHub