Fit peo­ple, not cities, are pro­tected from COVID-19

USA TODAY US Edition - - NATION’S HEALTH - Jayne O’Don­nell

The an­nual rank­ing of the fittest U.S. cities, out Tues­day, tracks with some of the cities that weath­ered COVID-19 bet­ter – but the re­verse is also often true.

The rank­ing un­der­scores how cities can help or hin­der res­i­dents’ op­por­tu­ni­ties to be phys­i­cally active, lose weight and avoid chronic con­di­tions in­clud­ing di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion and heart disease, which in­crease the risk of se­ri­ous ill­ness and death from COVID-19.

The COVID-19 death rate for Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, the na­tion’s fittest city for the third year in a row, is 56 per 100,000 pop­u­la­tion. Like most of the other Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs, Ar­ling­ton had more cases per capita than more ru­ral parts of the state. In­di­ana’s Mar­ion

County, which in­cludes 94th-ranked In­di­anapo­lis, has the high­est num­ber of cases and deaths in the state.

“We know from re­search that phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity can build a health­ier im­mune sys­tem and over­all well­ness, which help min­i­mize harm­ful ef­fects of ill­ness and disease,” said Bar­bara Ainsworth, chair of the Amer­i­can Fit­ness In­dex Ad­vi­sory Board. “This pan­demic shows the need to have lo­cal parks, trails and con­nected side­walks in all neigh­bor­hoods that al­low peo­ple to ex­er­cise safely.”

Though fit­ness can help in­di­vid­u­als ward off some of the virus’s most dan­ger­ous ef­fects, other fac­tors play a big role in how sus­cep­ti­ble a city be­comes. An area’s pub­lic health mes­sag­ing, so­cial dis­tanc­ing, use of mass tran­sit and av­er­age num­ber of peo­ple in a house­hold all play a part, said Amesh Adalja, an in­fec­tious disease physi­cian.

“No mat­ter how fit a city is, there are go­ing to be pop­u­la­tions that aren’t fit,” said Adalja, a se­nior scholar at Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Health Se­cu­rity.

The in­dex, co-spon­sored by the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine and the An­them Foun­da­tion, uses 33 health be­hav­iors, chronic dis­eases and com­mu­nity in­fra­struc­ture indicators to come up with scores that rank the health of com­mu­ni­ties and those who live in them.

City lead­ers and plan­ners need to en­act poli­cies and tar­get fund­ing to pro­mote phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, bet­ter health and stronger com­mu­ni­ties, ex­perts said.

That’s es­pe­cially true in cities with

high pop­u­la­tions of Black peo­ple and His­pan­ics, who have been dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by COVID-19, said Ni­Cole Keith, ACSM’s new pres­i­dent.

“COVID’s neg­a­tive health out­comes come from dis­eases that are pos­i­tively im­pacted by phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity,” Keith said. “If you give peo­ple a place to be active, the like­li­hood they will do it is higher.”

Only one in four Amer­i­cans meet na­tional phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity guide­lines and more than 30 mil­lion have heart disease, Ainsworth said.

Seden­tary life­styles across the coun­try cost more than $117 bil­lion a year in health costs, Ainsworth said.

Though there were many bright spots in the find­ings, re­searchers found only 22% of adults in the 100 largest cities met the guide­lines for both aer­o­bic and strength ac­tiv­i­ties. Adults need 150 min­utes per week of mod­er­ately in­tense ac­tiv­ity, or roughly 22 min­utes per day, for sub­stan­tial health ben­e­fits.

On more pos­i­tive notes:

•All cities: In all 100 cities, res­i­dents ex­er­cised and biked more, fewer smoked and there were more parks within a 10-minute walk this year com­pared with last.

•Big jumps: Some cities im­proved by at least 15 spots from 2019: Buf­falo, New York (No. 25); Toledo, Ohio (No. 81); and An­chor­age, Alaska (No. 37).

•Char­lotte, North Carolina: Even though the city ranks 67th, ACSM cred­its the work busi­ness and com­mu­nity lead­ers have done since 2013 to pri­or­i­tize healthy eat­ing, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and re­duc­ing to­bacco use, all three Fit­ness In­dex indicators.

•New Orleans: Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu set a goal for the city to be one of the 10 fittest in the USA. The Fit NOLA strate­gic plan tar­gets healthy eat­ing, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and to­bacco use, among oth­ers. The city is ranked 50th.

The in­dex, in its 13th year, ranks cities in­stead of en­tire metropoli­tan ar­eas to bet­ter cap­ture the health dis­par­i­ties in ur­ban ar­eas. The health chal­lenges fac­ing low-in­come peo­ple in cities were get­ting off­set by the health­ier sub­urbs, Keith said.


“COVID’s neg­a­tive health out­comes come from dis­eases that are pos­i­tively im­pacted by phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity,” says Ni­Cole Keith, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine.

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