Leading an active and healthy life is a goal shared by Americans of all ages. This desire became even more poignant after spending almost a year cooped up inside and socially distancing during the pandemic. Besides your daily habits, where you live also carries immense weight in determining how active and healthy you can get, with some cities offering just the right mix of resources to help you find your inner runner or to simply get you to go for a walk and support an active lifestyle.
While New York City and Boston might spring to mind when thinking about the quintessential active and walkable city – where keeping moving is often a must rather than an option – some other, less-hyped places around the U.S. make it easy for residents to stay healthy by promoting an active lifestyle. The opposite also holds true, with some big urban hubs surprisingly offering less in this respect.
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To find which cities offer an optimal mix of factors to help you reach your fitness goals, we started by looking at the 100 largest cities by population. We’ve analyzed cities based on several key indicators that foster an active lifestyle including venues for exercising, walkability, bike-friendliness, overall health, weather and natural conditions, including park space per capita, air quality index, days with precipitation, beach length and fitness club access and costs, as well as self storage costs – sports, biking and workout equipment is often kept in storage.
Arizona is represented by seven of its cities in the top 100 best places that support an active lifestyle.
• Chandler came out as the 3rd best city for leading an active lifestyle. The city ranked 7th for gyms, 15th for outdoor livability and 15th for health.
• Scottsdale ranked as the 4th best for active lifestyles. It ranked 2nd best for gyms and also came out as 7th healthiest in the US.
• Gilbert came out as the 15th best, due to high-ranking metrics such as health (11th), outdoor livability (22nd) and gym accessibility (21st).
• Glendale came out as the 17th best city for leading an active lifestyle. The city ranked 4th for gyms and 24th for bikeability.
• Tucson ranked 27th overall. The city scored 27th for gym accessibility and 32nd for bikeability.
• Mesa landed the 30th spot, ranking 34th for gyms and 36th for walkability.
• Phoenix took the 56th spot for active lifestyles. The city scored very well for the composite score of outdoor livability – 4th spot, with 1,049 sq. ft. of parks per capita and only 35 days of precipitation per year.
Western and Southern cities offer the best chance for an active lifestyle, with Irvine and Long Beach in the Lead
It’s true that rain and the cold can be a big turnoff when it comes to active lifestyles, as going out for a jog in Pittsburgh during the winter is a lot less achievable than in Miami, but sustainable urban infrastructure and indoor amenities can make up for weather-related drawbacks. In fact, Pittsburgh boasts the largest number of indoor fitness venues in the Northeast. Let’s see where residents are really supported by community amenities to stay active so you can plan your move towards a better living environment.
With a climate conducive to outdoor activities, a population that’s keen on physical activity, plus efforts from local authorities to preserve and foster better use of open space, Irvine emerges as the best city for active lifestyles. The Californian city enjoys about 2.4 fitness and recreational centers for every 10,000 people, almost double the national average, as well as beaches just 10 miles away – and they stretch for over 48 miles. Irvine residents are also very health-conscious, with the city emerging as the second-healthiest city in the US based on a combined ranking of physical activity, obesity, blood pressure, asthma and diabetes rates. A whopping 85% of adults here are physically active and 89% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, significantly better than the national average (approx. 55%).
In addition, Irvine is one the most bike-friendly cities in the country, and it also scores high for its walkability, with as many as 4.5% of Irvine dwellers choosing to walk to work. Nationally, 2.6% of working adults walk to their jobs. And as Irvine boasts access to so much beach, going surfing or simply planning a beach day is only a stone’s throw away from the city. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder Irvine turned into a roommate hotspot. Besides boasting a large number of roommates, Irvine also excels at the community amenities that rentals come with here, as it also tops the charts for the top-notch mix of options in this regard.
Besides Irvine, Long Beach is another Californian city that stands out as a hub for active lifestyles, popping up in second position in our national ranking. Long Beach has about 54.2 miles of beach on its doorstep – the third largest stretch of beach that is available within a 10-mile radius of any US city. Add to this the fact that Long Beach has about 2 fitness and recreational centers per 10,000 people, and it is clearly shaping up to be a fun, fit city. Biking helps a lot in this endeavor, with about 0.7% of the working population riding their bike to work.
Nobody can blame locals for taking their love of sports outdoors, whether they sign up for the Long Beach Marathon or they cheered on their favorite team at the national beach volleyball championship which recently took place in Long Beach. The city’s also fostering an active, carefree lifestyle that expands to the locals’ four-legged companions. Long Beach is home to Rosie’s Dog Beach, the only leash-free beach space for dogs in LA County.
Scottsdale excels not only at providing community amenities for rentals, but it also shines brightly when it comes to supporting a healthy and active lifestyle. In fact, Scottsdale emerges as the second-best city for gyms due to the combination of easy access to exercise venues and gym membership fees. From golf and family-friendly activities to water slides and dive-in movies, Scottsdale certainly doesn’t fall short of ways of staying fit while having fun. With such a wealth of activity-inclined options, The West’s Most Western Town also comes through with flying colors as it emerges as the seventh-healthiest city in the US. While some neighborhoods may be more walkable than others, Old Town fares well in terms of walkability, with residents enjoying easy access to local amenities and entertainment.
As part of the DC metro area, Arlington, VA, is a vibrant city with a young demographic. Besides its high ratings for schools and easy commute, Arlington also comes off as the nation’s most bikeable city, thanks to its bike-friendly infrastructure and the locals’ penchant for getting their bicycles on the road when going places. This is hardly surprising given that neighboring DC is a bike-friendly city, with 1.5% of local residents there choosing this mode of transportation for commuting. But biking to work isn’t the only physically active commute choice as about 4.2% of locals have taken to walking to get to work, almost double the national share for the same mode of transportation.