BOSTON (MainStreet) Whether you're training to win an Olympic medal or simply hoping to develop a good beach body, here's a look at the five top U.S. cities to move to get in shape.
"These cities are the best choices for people who either want to be become physically active or maintain an active lifestyle," says Dr. Walt Thompson, a Georgia State University researcher who oversees the American College of Sports Medicine's annual American Fitness Index.
The AFI analyzes the country's 50 largest metro areas for 17 health-related factors, from smoking rates to the number of swimming pools per 100,000 residents.
Thompson says the study provides a good picture of not only which cities have health-conscious residents, but also of those that offer the most parks, farmer's markets and other amenities that make fitness easier to achieve.
"These cities all have kinds of the environments that support healthy behaviors," he says.
Click below to check out the five communities that topped this year's AFI.
The American College of Sports Medicine prepared the rankings using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other public and private agencies.
Each city's score represents the average of how it rated on all 17 factors that researchers studied (a locale would have to come in first place in all areas to score a perfect 100).
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All health statistics refer to residents of a community's entire metro area, but figures on local fitness facilities refer only to those within city limits. The term "average" refers to averages among the 50 cities studied.
Fifth-fittest city in America: Denver
Score: 68.1 (out of a possible 100)
Even though it's the home of the Denver omelet, the Mile High City enjoys one of the lowest death rates from cardiovascular disease of any city studied.
Just 137.1 locals die of heart problems each year for every 100,000 Denver residents, way below the 187.5 average among America's 50 largest cities.
In fact, researchers found that Denver has all sorts of positive health measures, from a very low level of diabetes deaths to an above-average rate of residents who are at least moderately active.
As for fitness-friendly facilities, Denver boasts an above-average number of baseball fields, dog parks, farmer's markets, golf courses, swimming pools and tennis courts on a per-capita basis.
Fourth-fittest city in America: San Francisco
The AFI study found that San Francisco has the lowest rates of both smoking (11% of the population) and obesity (18.6%) among communities analyzed.
The City by the Bay also boasts low per-capita death rates from diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while twice as many residents as average walk or bike to work relative to the community's population.
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And while San Francisco has below-average per-capita numbers of baseball fields, swimming pools and other exercise-promoting facilities, locals do have access to more than three times the typical number of dog parks relative to the community's population.
Third-fittest city in America: Portland, Ore.
Oregon's largest city also has a relatively low number of smokers, as well as a below-average rate of death from cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, Portland offers health-conscious residents a higher-than-average per-capita number of baseball fields, dog parks, golf courses, farmers' markets, public parks and tennis courts.
Second-fittest city in America: Washington
Washington has long been America's capital when it comes to health-conscious residents, perennially ranking No. 1 on those parts of the AFI study that relate to individual fitness rather than community facilities.
For example, 60.9% of Washingtonians rate their health as "excellent" or "very good" -- the highest level among any city studied.
Residents also enjoy above-average numbers of farmers' markets, dog parks, recreation centers, swimming pools, tennis courts and public parks on a per-capita basis.
Thompson says outdoor amenities such as the National Mall, a two-mile greenway that stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol, offer great exercise opportunities. "Go out to the Mall any day between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and you'll find literally hundreds of joggers or people out for a walk," he says.
Fittest city in America: Minneapolis-St. Paul
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has no twin when it comes to fitness, topping the AFI list for three years running.
Thompson says the Twin Cities rank No. 1 thanks to high levels of both fitness-friendly facilities and personal-health statistics.
For instance, the Minneapolis region has the lowest cardiovascular-disease-fatality rate of any city studied: 118.8 deaths per year for every 100,000 residents). The community also has one of the smallest percentages of people with angina/coronary heart disease, as well as some of the highest levels of residents who report "excellent" or "very good" health.
Additionally, Minneapolis residents have access to the highest per-capita number of baseball fields and recreation centers, as well as to above-average levels of dog parks, farmers' markets, golf courses, playgrounds, public parks and tennis courts.
Thompson says officials do a particularly good job of providing indoor facilities so locals can stay active during the winter. "They know it's going to be cold and snowy there three or four months a year, so they put resources into places where residents can exercise 365 days a year," he says.
By Jerry Kronenberg