Category: In the News

child climbing at a park

The American Fitness Index in 2020 | The Essential Nature of Parks

For more than a decade the ACSM American Fitness Index® has provided an annual snapshot of community fitness for some of the largest cities and metro areas in the United States. From the start, the Fitness Index acknowledged the importance of parks, recreation facilities and assets like playgrounds, tennis courts and swimming pools. Not only are these resources for physical and mental health, they are civic, social and economic drivers. In a word, parks and recreation are essential.

Parks and public spaces are having a moment in 2020. The last four months have seen extraordinary changes for American cities and their residents. When the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading across the U.S., public officials closed schools and government offices, issued stay-at-home orders and restricted travel to only essential functions. With more time at home, many people did something they’ve never done before – they visited their local parks, walked on a neighborhood trail or dusted off their bikes and rode with confidence in a bike lane for the first time. City infrastructure like parks, trails, sidewalks and bike lanes were viewed in a whole new light. They were no longer just nice-to-have amenities; instead they quickly became essential public resources.

As the days and weeks wore on, parks transformed into escapes from our homes. On a dime, parks departments moved from organizing summer rec leagues and swimming lessons, to providing meals for school children, and eventually, to any person experiencing food insecurity. Parks departments also offered childcare for front-line workers, a critical component for ensuring workforce capacity was maximized.

Parks are much more than ball fields, picnic tables and charcoal grills. Parks are civic places as well, essential for historic and current protests seeking social justice and human rights. From speeches and marches on the National Mall to demonstrations in local parks, these public spaces have a long history of serving as a platform for change makers.

This agility and willingness to meet the needs of the community is not new to parks departments. For years they have delivered essential services, but rarely have they been funded at levels that reflect their value to the community. As the economic recession deepens, city tax revenue is in steep decline. Parks departments face dramatic budget cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs. Despite having filled critical gaps in the community, while generating more than $166 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 1.1 million jobs, public officials do not perceive parks departments as contributing to their biggest concern – economic development.

Parks, trails and recreation facilities attract business development and new residents, shape the quality of life for entire neighborhoods, and drive investment in communities. It is in all of our interest to call on public officials at all levels of government to increase funding for parks and recreation and to ensure equitable distribution of funds, resources and programming. As the writer and journalist Marty Rubin said, “Parks and playgrounds are the soul of a city.”

Authors: Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACSM, FNAK; Stella Volpe, Ph.D., R.D.N., ACSM-CEP, FACSM; Gretchen Patch, M.P.H. 

woman running on park trail

Take to the Trails!

The ancient curse “may you live in interesting times!” seems fitting right now. While the stay-at-home order has constrained our normally hectic lives, we have been able to spend more time with our families and participate in activities we didn’t take time to do before, like going for walks. Here in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic is occurring in months when the weather is more favorable for outdoor activities. This has led to some very positive developments, one of which is more people walking and exercising outdoors.

From a public health perspective, walking, biking or any outdoor physical activity is a great form of exercise. Walking, specifically, is very beneficial as evidenced by many studies.[1],[2]  Walking reduces blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and other cardiovascular risks; the risk of type II diabetes, preterm births and low-for-gestational-age births; as well as incidence of strokes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, asthma and coronary heart disease.  And, those are just the physical benefits!

Walking outside offers even more benefits. A summary of the research on this topic[3] indicates that exercising in the natural environment has direct and positive impact on wellbeing, including a greater reduction in blood pressure and cortisol (a hormone released during stress) compared to “synthetic” environments such as gyms, urban spaces and indoor exercise. It is thought that the outdoor environment reflects the role of nature in recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Also, exercising in nature might encourage starting and continuing health-enhancing behaviors like jogging on a path in a park. Interestingly, a review of outdoor versus indoor exercise[4] shows the greater benefit of exercising outside is on mental or emotional measures like better attention, higher energy and tranquility, as well as less anger, fatigue, sadness and depression.

Many communities and municipalities have invested in expanding trails and sidewalks for residents to utilize for exercise and commuting to nearby businesses. While these amenities add great benefits in terms of better health, desirability and home value, these are often near streets with vehicular traffic. This results in added stress from passing cars and trucks not to mention exposure to noise and fumes. Fortunately, some multipurpose trails in suburban and less-developed corridors have fewer adverse factors. State parks and recreation areas also include walking trails, offering more favorable places to exercise in stress-free, clean-air environments. Many residents in the U.S. have access to nearby trails in natural environments which would be ideal for exercising. Do you know of some nearby trails in parks or undeveloped areas that you can use? I’ll bet you do. In case you don’t, use this find a park resource to help.

Author: Terrell Zollinger





Intentional Daily Movement | Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

My name is Olivia Affuso and I am a streak runner. I have run at least one mile every day for the last 600 consecutive days. This may seem like a lot, but there are people like Jon Sutherland who has been running every day for more than 50 years! Now, that, is a lot of running. Of course, this is more than enough, but the science is clear: We humans need regular physical activity to stay mentally and physically well.

Getting started can be tough as people move from ‘just thinking about it’ to actually engaging in physical activities like brisk walking, running or strength training. Research suggests that it takes about 66 days to establish a habit, and additional strategies may be needed to recover from any unexpected breaks due to injury and other things. Keeping it going long-term can be a challenge. Let’s just say, life happens.

2020 has thrown us all a serious curveball with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have had to change our routines—including those routines for our exercise goals or resolutions that often wane within the first months of the year.

But, how about during the pandemic? My observation, at least via social media, is that more people are engaging in exercise to deal with the stress of the ‘stay-at-home’ measures than before the crisis. I have noticed more live streaming of dance fitness, yoga, body weight strength classes and more. The online running groups I belong to are very active with individuals posting about their progress on one or more virtual races such as the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee – 1000K, which requires running five miles per day to complete it by the August 31st, 2020 deadline. There are over 18,000 registered participants from around the world. Of course, the number of participants is not evidence that previously sedentary people are getting more active. Hopefully, we will have some data about how COVID-19 is impacting people’s physical activity from a new ongoing study by researchers at Ohio University.

Has the pandemic affected my exercise routine? Absolutely! Initially, I experienced a steep drop in the duration and intensity of my running (from 35 miles to 15 miles/week) due to an increase in caregiving responsibilities as well as transitioning my in-person public health course of 56 students to an online format. However, I did not break my streak. I couldn’t break my streak. There is no way the 300 plus ladies in my online support and accountability group would let me quit without good reason. As a matter of fact, we currently have a 150-day one intentional mile challenge going until the end of May. Many of the women are on track to complete this challenge and several have shared their plans to keep their habit of intentional daily movement going for at least 365 days. Take Lisa for instance. She is a corporate executive who struggled with being consistent with her exercise until she started her first 50-day challenge. Not only is Lisa now meeting the national physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, she is walking a 5K every day and six miles virtually on Sundays with friends. She says she has never felt better and has no plans to break her walking streak.

Could this pandemic be your catalyst to start your own movement ‘streak’? Yes! You can do it. Here are my suggestions for getting started:

1) Choose an activity you like to do

2) Set a minimum time or distance for each day

3) Pick a start date

4) Find support

5) Be flexible

6) Have fun!

Of course, check with your physician before starting any exercise routine.


Author: Olivia Affuso, Ph.D., FACSM,  is a faculty member at the University of Alabama and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine Board of Trustees.

people in crosswalk american fitness index

2020 Fitness Index Release to be delayed

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), in collaboration with philanthropic partner, Anthem Foundation, will delay the release of the 2020 American Fitness Index rankings until later this year. The Fitness Index evaluates and celebrates America’s 100 largest cities and their efforts to support healthy, active lifestyles.


Physical activity has always been one of the most effective ways to ensure good health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, staying active is increasingly important to both physical and mental health, including developing a strong immune system and building mental resilience. ACSM, the Anthem Foundation and the Fitness Index encourage all people to get and stay active while following safety recommendations by federal, state and local public health officials. For more resources on how to be active at home visit


This post will be updated with additional information as it becomes available. Please check back regularly.

madison wisconsin america's 5th fittest city

Madison, Wisconsin, America’s Fifth Fittest City

With a population of 255,214, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, is one of the fittest cities in America, clocking in at number five in the 2019 rankings released by ACSM’s American Fitness Index.

The city ranked highly in many categories, including first in the following categories: percentage of residents meeting aerobic activity guidelines (65%), percent of residents consuming two or more fruits a day (46.6%), park units per 10,000 residents (11.3), and park playgrounds per 10,000 residents (7). The city also ranked 2nd overall in personal health behaviors with a score of 81.5.

See how Madison  scored for each of the 33 indicators.

See more Madison highlights in this video created by the American Fitness Index’s sponsor partner, The Anthem Foundation.

physical activity american fitness index rankings blog

Physical Activity | Benefits Year-Round

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) American Fitness Index is one of the most credible and reliable assessments of individual and community fitness across the United States. The indicators included in the report are timely, relevant, and valuable to address both unique and common factors between cities. In 2019, The Fitness Index added four new indicators: pedestrian fatalities, air quality, Bike Score, and Complete Street policies.

The advisory board added the indicators mentioned above to place more emphasis on the built environment and the role it plays on health for the population. It is doubtful that not being able to enjoy the outdoor facilities in your neighborhood would create an often-insurmountable barrier for additional physical activity.

With the new year in full swing, many have made a resolution to be more active and take better care of their health. Still, more than half of the country is in the middle of a cold winter, which can mean slippery roads and less daylight in the afternoon. The environment many Americans call home may not encourage a healthy behavior change. And sure, they may decide that they will brave the cold to take a walk. Still, as soon as they step outside on to the public sidewalk, they lose their footing because the city has not done such a great job of clearing the snow and ice from the last winter storm. Or stories of people falling victim to car accidents while walking may be discouraging. These factors are within the control of the local governments, and these indicators will allow them to have the information to create a space for a positive change. Being able to walk safely because the sidewalk is not slippery or more streetlights for better visibility may encourage more sustainable behavior.

Living a more active lifestyle has numerous benefits for people of all ages. The current recommendations for physical activity include 150 min/week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 min/week of vigorous aerobic physical activity, and at least two days of strength training that involves all major muscle groups. Increased physical activity has the potential of leading to long-term health benefits. There is substantial evidence of the positive effects associated with increased physical activity on physical health, mental health, and all-cause mortality. Look above and notice that exercise was never mentioned before this sentence. You can be active in any matter you choose.

According to data from the 2019 American Fitness Index, 51.2% of residents report meeting the aerobic activity guidelines. Of those, only 22% stated they were meeting both aerobic and strength recommendations. While there are many options for indoor fitness, they can be costly and inconvenient. Communities can encourage residents to meet both aerobic and resistance training recommendations by placing outdoor adult fitness gyms in local parks. Cities falling in the top 25 of the fittest cities in the U.S. have about 35% more residents living within a 10-minute walk to a local park than other cities. This proximity to parks provides greater opportunity for residents to be more active. A higher number of outdoor adult fitness parks, especially in underserved communities, may increase the likelihood of producing positive change in overall fitness and health.

On an individual level, finding ways to increase physical activity can be done everywhere you frequent. At home, choosing to do a few jumping jacks or squats during a commercial break will improve your physical activity when done for an hour-long television show. When at work, taking at least one minute every hour to walk around the office can make a big difference in a week. In your neighborhood, getting off the bus a stop early to walk will increase your physical activity. All these small changes can yield significant benefits to your health and fitness.

Whatever you can do to increase the amount of time you are moving is going to be the best thing you can do for your health. Please beware of trying to do something that you genuinely dislike, as these are the things you will most likely not do for very long. So, go for a walk or play with your kids. Either way you should aim to have fun and have an active new year.

And just for good measure, if you haven’t already, and it’s safe to do so, how about taking a short walk? Remember, health is wealth.

Author: Alvin L. Morton III, M.S.

blog, health disparities in built environments

Disparities in the Quality of Physical Activity Environments

There are race, ethnic and socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in physical activity. The disparities differ by domain of physical activity (e.g., occupation, transportation), but there is consistent evidence that leisure time physical activity is lower among individuals with lower income and members of most race and ethnic minority groups. One possible explanation of these disparities is that communities of color and those living in lower-SES neighborhoods have lower quality physical activity environments. Environments can be designed to make it easier to be active or to create barriers to physical activity. There are national health objectives and public health imperatives to reduce physical activity disparities and improving environments in disadvantaged neighborhoods could be a strategy for long-term benefits for entire communities.

Our research group has studied disparities in two general types of physical activity environments, or places where people are often active. One is the park environment, the other is the streetscape environment, and both are relevant to leisure time physical activity. Parks are obvious places for recreational activity, but walking is the most common type of activity at virtually all ages, and the most common place to walk is on sidewalks and streets in the neighborhood.


Access to parks and park quality

Past studies of access to parks have produced mixed results about whether there are fewer parks in low-income communities of color. Our research group was particularly interested in whether there were disparities in the quality of parks. We defined quality as the number of different types of sports and physical activity facilities, such as ball fields, trails, basketball courts and playgrounds, as well as number of amenities such as restrooms and water fountains.

We observed 543 parks in and around Baltimore, MD and Seattle, WA neighborhoods selected to vary widely on SES. The results were very different across regions. In the Baltimore region we found the expected lower quality of physical activity facilities and amenities in mostly-minority neighborhoods. In the Seattle region, the surprising result was that lower-income areas had parks with more sports and physical activity facilities and more amenities. We referred to the Seattle pattern as “equitable differences,” meaning these economically deprived neighborhoods needed higher quality parks because they did not have access to fitness centers and exercise programs that required fees and transportation.


Streetscape quality

Studies of overall community design, such as having shops and schools within walking distance, often do not find disparities across race, ethnic and SES groups. However, our interest was in the quality of streetscapes, or the extent to which streets and sidewalks are designed to be comfortable, attractive and safe for pedestrians. We conducted observations in over 2200 locations in Baltimore, MD, Seattle, WA and San Diego County, CA regions. We coded presence and quality of sidewalks, quality and safety of street crossings, aesthetic features like landscaping and indicators of social disorder such as graffiti.

Again, the results were complex. Though there were some differences across regions, there were many more common findings. We found disparities, such that low-income and mostly-minority neighborhoods had worse aesthetic and social-disorder features, such as graffiti, litter, broken windows and fewer trees. But we also saw evidence of “equitable differences,” with high-income and mostly white neighborhoods generally having worse crosswalks, intersections and sidewalks.


Lessons learned: Patterns of environmental disparities are local

Our studies found some evidence of environmental “disparities:” park quality and pedestrian features that were worse in low-income and/or mostly-minority neighborhoods. We also found “equitable differences:” park quality and pedestrian features that were worse in high-income and/or mostly white neighborhoods. These patterns had not been reported before. The park and streetscape features that exhibited disparities varied between cities, but we discovered a clue that helps explain some of the differences by region. In the Seattle region, a King County ordinance guaranteed equal facilities and services across neighborhoods that could explain the high-quality parks in low-income neighborhoods. This is evidence that local policies determine whether there are disparities in physical activity environments.

It should not be assumed that parks and pedestrian streetscapes are lower quality in low-income areas and communities of color. It should also not be assumed all neighborhoods have equal quality physical activity environments. The only way to determine local patterns of environmental disparities is to collect local data, but such data are rarely collected.

Park and streetscape features are modifiable and offer a feasible and affordable approach to creating activity-friendly environments in all neighborhoods.  Conducting observations in numerous neighborhoods can help local policy makers, planners and community groups identify disparities, recommend targeted changes and increase physical activity opportunities for all residents, regardless of race, ethnicity or income. Simple observational measures are available that can be used by community residents to assess their neighborhood environments. Community groups are encouraged to work with government agencies to document the quality of physical activity environments in their neighborhoods and use local data to develop plans for improvement.



Thornton, C.M., Conway, T.L., Cain, K.L., Gavand, K.A., Saelens, B.E., Frank, L.D., Geremia, C.M., Glanz, K., King, A.C., and Sallis, J.F. (2016). Disparities in pedestrian streetscape environments by income and race/ethnicity. SSM-Population Health, 2, 206-216.

Engelberg, J.K., Conway, T.L., Geremia, C., Cain, K.L., Saelens, B.E., Glanz, K., Frank, L.D., and Sallis, J.F. (2016). Socioeconomic and race/ethnic disparities in observed park quality. BMC Public Health, 16:395.

Research brief


James Sallis, PhD, FACSMJames F. Sallis, Ph.D, FACSM is former Vice President of ACSM and is a member of the ACSM Strategic Health Initiative on Health Equity. He has been studying physical activity about 40 years, and his research interests are promoting physical activity and understanding policy and environmental influences on physical activity, nutrition, and obesity.  He has authored over 700 scientific publications, is one of the world’s most cited authors, and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

male pedestrain about to cross a busy intersection

America’s Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians

Across America’s 100 largest cities an average of  2.2 pedestrians were killed per 100,000 residents in the last year.   With a total population of 64,504,498  in those cities,  that means approximately 1,419 lives were lost.

A variety of factors may contribute to pedestrian fatalities, including distracted driving, a lack of proper lighting, inadequate sidewalks and unsafe crossing and intersections.

America's Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians
America’s Most Dangerous Cities for Pedestrians

The most dangerous cities for pedestrians are (average deaths per 100,000 residents):

100. St. Louis, MO (5.8)

99. Albuquerque, NM (4.7)

98. St. Petersburg, FL (4.2)

97. (tie) Corpus Christi, TX (4.1)

97. (tie) Atlanta, GA (4.1)

95. Jacksonville, FL (4.0)

94. Orlando, FL (3.7)

93. (tie) Tampa, FL (3.6)

93. (tie) New Orleans, LA (3.6)

91. (tie) Bakersfield, CA (3.5)

91. (tie) San Antonio, TX (3.5)

How does your city rank? 

active transportation op-ed template blog

Advocate for Active Transportation in Your Community | Op-ed Template

A key step in increasing active transportation habits and avenues  in your community is working to increase awareness of the economical, personal health and environmental benefits of walking and biking. Submitting an op-ed to your local newspaper, magazine or television station can be a productive way to spread the word about these benefits.

The American Fitness Index and ACSM’s ActivEarth Task Force have partnered to supply an op-ed template that you can use to generate or renew interest in active transportation methods in your community. The template can be easily customized for your local community.  Click here to download the template!  

Include stats from the Fitness Index Rankings report  in your op-ed.

Want to learn more about supporting active transportation? Check out more ActivEarth resources here.

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Pedestrian Safety Concerns Hinder Active Transportation

In 2018, 6,227 pedestrian fatalities occurred in the United States, the highest number in nearly three decades and a four percent increase from 2017 according to a report earlier this year from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). “While we have made progress reducing fatalities among many other road users in the past decade, pedestrian deaths have risen 35 percent,” noted GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. Pedestrians were projected to account for 16 percent of all traffic deaths in 2018, compared to 12 percent in 2008. The high rate of pedestrian fatalities is a growing public health issue that often gets little notice, but should, particularly now that more individuals are walking, running or biking for exercise and commuting.

Following advice from experts, such as those from the American College of Sports Medicine and perhaps their own physicians, many Americans are becoming more physically active to improve their health, reduce their risk for many diseases and increase their quality of life. As a result, individuals have taken to the streets to walk, jog, run and bike. The American Fitness Index incorporates several related measures, including the percent of residents bicycling or walking to work, the Walk Score and Bike Score for cities and the percent of residents using public transportation, as it calculates city fitness scores and rankings.

Despite knowing the health benefits, safety concerns can be a major barrier to physical activity for individuals who are uncomfortable exercising on or near city streets, since sharing the streets with motor vehicles poses a risk of injury or even death for pedestrians. For this reason, the Advisory Board of the Fitness Index added pedestrian fatality rates as a health outcome indicator in 2019. The Advisory Board believes the higher the pedestrian fatality rate, the more likely it will be a barrier for residents’ physical activity, leading to a less fit city.

In the 2019 Fitness Index rankings, four of the 10 cities with the highest pedestrian fatality rates were located in Florida (St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa) and two more were also in the southeast region (Atlanta and New Orleans). On the other end of the spectrum, of the cities with the lowest rates, two were in Virginia (Arlington and Virginia Beach) and two others were in Nebraska (Lincoln and Omaha).

As you have been driving, perhaps you have worried about how to safely pass a walker, runner or cyclist on the street? This knowledge gap is a major problem for drivers when people are exercising or commuting on foot particularly in early morning, at dusk and especially at night when visibility is poor. Over the past 10 years, nighttime crashes accounted for more than 90 percent of the total increase in pedestrian deaths.

Next Steps

To reduce this trend, (which has been accomplished in some cities!) additional efforts need to focus on what the city, drivers and pedestrians can do to increase safety. For example, cities can adopt Complete Streets policies, one of the Fitness Index indicators, which focus on designing, constructing and maintaining streets to be safe for all users. These designs can help slow drivers and encourages them to be more cautious around pedestrians. Communities can also help reduce pedestrian fatalities by educating both drivers and pedestrians on following traffic rules and speed limits and safety measures when exercising or commuting on streets. For additional resources to improve pedestrian safety, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The bottom line is that attention to pedestrian safety by city leaders, drivers and pedestrians themselves are all needed to reduce pedestrian fatalities.


Author: Terrell W. Zollinger, Dr.P.H, MSPH