How is Philadelphia doing compared to other major U.S. cities when it comes to personal fitness? According to new rankings released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the greater Philadelphia region is in the middle of the pack—but its trajectory over the last several years is moving in the right direction overall. The region encompassing Philadelphia and nearby areas of New Jersey and Delaware, including Camden and Wilmington, ranked No. 22 this year in ACSM and the Anthem Foundation’s eighth annual American Fitness Index® (AFI) ranking released. View the rankings and individual metro data here.
Stella Volpe, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, has served as a member of the AFI Advisory Board since the rankings began and is a fellow of the ACSM.
Volpe says Philadelphia is doing fairly well on indicators of community and environmental features that can influence healthy behavior, such as the density of parks, recreational facilities and farmers’ markets per capita. But the region still fares relatively poorly on personal health indicators, such as participation in physical activity, consuming enough fruits and vegetables and the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease.
“Philadelphia is a great city, and very walkable,” Volpe says. “The reason Philly does not do as well from the health indicators relates a lot to the higher level of poverty and health disparities connected to that.”
Slowly but surely, Philadelphia’s fitness does seem to be improving. Last year, ACSM released a trend report for each metropolitan area’s AFI indicators. Judging by this track record, the Philadelphia metro area appears to be making improvements –from an AFI score of 45.9 in 2009, inching up to 52.5 in 2015. (By comparison, the top-10 ranked metro areas all scored higher than 65 this year.)
Nevertheless, there is still a lot of room for improvement in personal health indicators—as in these examples:
- 68 percent of Philadelphia-area respondents said they had engaged in any physical activity or exercise in the last 30 days—meaning that nearly a third of the population engaged in no physical activity or exercise in that time period at all.
- 70 percent of Philadelphia-area respondents consumed fewer than two fruits per day.
- 87 percent of Philadelphia-area respondents consumed fewer than three vegetables per day.
Volpe says that for those who aren’t engaging in healthy behaviors, there are still ways to make small changes at first that can add up to larger health benefits. “Small changes add up,” she says.
Volpe’s tips for physical activity and eating well include:
- Start with parking farther away from where you need to go (if safe enough).
- Eat a daily salad with mixed vegetables to increase your veggie consumption.
- Use the stairs, not the elevators, within your ability.
- To consume more fruits and vegetables, try an all-fruit smoothie with ingredients such as beets, carrots, apples and kale—that can all blend together deliciously.
- Walk with your family (including your dog, of course!).
(Speaking of dogs, the AFI indicators show Philadelphia’s density of dog parks is only about a third of the targeted level. Although there are many other neighborhood factors where Philadelphia is above average, accommodations for Fido are still a good thing for fitness, Volpe says. Last year, she co-authored research showing that dog ownership was associated with more walking and less sedentary lifestyles. )
Volpe says that getting started on lifestyle changes is always the most difficult part, but generally moving each day and eating fruits and vegetables daily are both great “medicines.” ACSM is even promoting exercise as medicine with a program encouraging physicians to “prescribe” exercise for patients, she says.
To learn more about ACSM’s American Fitness Index, visit http://americanfitnessindex.org/report/.
Members of the news media interested in interviewing Volpe should contact Rachel Ewing, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.895.2614.