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Health experts rank the 100 fittest US cities; see where Indy falls

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The American College of Sports Medicine released its annual report ranking the top 100 fittest cities across the U.S. Where did Indianapolis land? Let’s just say there’s work to be done. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Gillis, D.Ed., interviewed Dr. NiCole Keith, president of the American College of Sports Medicine and coauthor of the American Fitness Index. She spoke about individual responsibility, societal and environmental factors as well as the role policy plays in helping residents get and stay healthy and fit. She also talked about what needs to be done to improve the city’s place on the list. 

Gillis: Joining us now we have Dr. NiCole Keith, research scientist at the Regenstrief Institute. She is also the newly elected president of the American College of Sports Medicine, which is based right here in Indianapolis. 

Welcome and thank you for being here, Dr. Keith.

The American College of Sports Medicine released a report ranking the most fit cities to the least fit cities. What is this report? What metrics did you use to rank these cities and where does Indianapolis fall?

Keith: The American College of Sports Medicine’s American Fitness Index is a report ranking the biggest 100 cities in the United States and it looks at health indicators, personal behaviors, policy and the built environment…so the roads and sidewalks as well as green space. And it ranks cities based on the resources these cities have that make people healthier. 

Gillis: I understand Indianapolis does not rank very well…

Keith: Right. We are 94 out of 100 and Fort Wayne comes in at 92. 

Gillis: Can we extrapolate these findings to the state as a whole?

Keith: We cannot. Fort Wayne is very different from Indianapolis and Indianapolis is very different from, let’s say, a suburb or another location. Cities are different. They have different assets and they have different limitations as well.   

Gillis:  So, what does the city need to do to increase healthy behaviors among residents? I understand it’s not just about the individual, but there are also social factors, environmental factors as you spoke about, there are cultural factors…can you speak to each one of these factors and also how they relate to an individual person?

Keith: Sure. Let’s take a personal behavior like walking or biking to work. Indianapolis ranks very low in those who decide to walk or bike to work. There is something called a ‘bike score’ and there is something called a ‘walk score’ that looks at how many bike lanes there are, traffic calming measures, how heavy the traffic is, whether the sidewalks are connected that will allow someone to do destination walking. When there is a low walk score and a low bike score, a personal behavior is going to be a little bit different. That’s an example of a personal behavior.  

As policy makers or as a city, we can create a community that’s more bikeable and more walkable so people can change their personal behavior. It all ties together. 

Gillis: In terms of the American College of Sports Medicine–we’re talking about physical activity. I know there is a dose response in terms of health benefits, which is 150 minutes of moderate physical per week. What if someone doesn’t have that amount of time to commit to exercise? Is this an all or nothing type deal? 

Keith: No. Everything counts. If you look at the American Fitness Index you’ll find 70% of the people say they have exercised in the last 30 days. That’s great. That’s a really high percentage. But only 19% of our residents meet those guidelines. But it’s not an all or none. It’s really great that people are doing physical activity. Moving at all is better than not moving at all. However, the goal is to have positive health outcomes by meeting these physical activity guidelines. 

Gillis: You have the floor. What do you want to tell Hoosiers? How do we move up the ranks? How can we improve?

Keith: Well, I talked about the walk and bike score. I was also looking at our policies. Minneapolis, for example, is doing really well and has ranked number one or two over the last 10 years. Minneapolis spends $263 per parkland expenditure for residents. Indianapolis spends $36. So, we really have to put our money where our mouth is. We have to vote on what we want to spend our money on and if we want to invest in our health, we have to do better in terms of policies and funding that increases green space. We have beautiful trails but they don’t go throughout the city so they don’t connect. We have great parks, but they are only in certain communities when they need to be in all Indianapolis communities. People may look and say we’re doing poorly and we need to do better and that’s true. But it’s also up to our lawmakers, our policy makers and our leaders to make it easier for us to make the healthy choice. There has to be some investment there. 

Gillis: Sounds like there are a lot of players in this game. Dr. NiCole Keith, thank you for joining us and congratulations again on being elected as president of the American College of Sports Medicine.