If you feel like life has sometimes conspired against you when you try to be more active, you might be on to something. A new study suggests that some cities are much better than others at creating the best environment for a healthy lifestyle.
Of the 100 largest U.S. cities analyzed by WalletHub, Honolulu ranked first in the list of places that make it easy for people to adopt an active lifestyle, based on factors such as gym costs, bike paths, sidewalks, parks and the number of physically active residents. San Francisco took second place, followed by New York, Chicago and Las Vegas.
At the very bottom of the list was Fort Wayne, Indiana; Garland, Texas; and North Las Vegas.
An affordable gym membership was not the deciding factor
The top ranked cities did not earn their spots based on affordable monthly gym fees. New York and San Francisco were in a three-way tie with Washington, DC, for the most expensive gyms – with costs 7 times higher than the most affordable city for fitness club memberships, Glendale, Arizona.
However, many of the top-rated cities offered a wide variety of other ways for people to stay active without hitting the gym, including a wide variety of free and easy ways to get moving throughout the day.
“Safe spaces for physical activity, such as public parks, bike paths, and active community offerings, are the most effective strategies for an active community,” Sami Yli-Piipari, PhD, co-director of the Sports Instruction Research Laboratory at the University of Georgia in Athens. , said in a statement that accompanied the study results.
Plenty of playgrounds was a sign of a healthy city
Some previous research suggests that something as seemingly simple as having a grocery store within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from home can make it much easier for city dwellers to lead healthier lives, said Dr. Yli-Piipari. Another advantage in many top cities is their abundance of playgrounds, so children can learn to be active from an early age.
“It’s a common misconception that young children learn positive movement habits from ‘adult’ activities,” Yli-Piipari said. “Instead, children learn to be active by experiencing and associating physical activity and exercise with positive experiences such as being together, feeling better and having fun.”
Playgrounds are one thing that helped get New York to the top of the list. New York had the most playgrounds per capita, 14 times more than the city with the fewest playgrounds, Gilbert, Arizona.
New York also had the most basketball hoops per capita, with 34 times more courts than Gilbert. And New York also ranked fourth in the number of tennis courts per capita.
There was one area where Gilbert shined, earning the top spot in the number of golf courses, a category where New York ranked 99th out of 100, just ahead of Laredo, Texas. New York also finished last in the number of fitness centers, a category led by Scottsdale, Arizona.
When it comes to healthy urban living, walkability is important
One of the biggest factors that can help people get fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle in an urban environment – or anywhere – is having plenty of easily accessible ways to get around. For example, one recent study found that people had a smaller waistline and weighed less when they lived near parks, playgrounds, gyms, pools, and other places to exercise.
Walking is also important for healthy living, with WalletHub’s analysis including a “Walk Score” for each city. Other studies have found that walkable urban neighborhoods and good public transportation help people stay active.