Earlier this year, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released the annual ACSM American Fitness Index® () data report. This report evaluates the 50 most populous city areas and identifies the healthiest and fittest places in the United States.

For the first time, the metropolitan statistical area of Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington edged out previous leader Washington, D.C. for the top spot with a score of 77.2 (out of 100 possible points). The metro area ranked 3rd with a score of 71.7 in 2010.

Minneapolis-St. Paul took the lead thanks to greater improvements in healthy behavior measures and a reduction in the percentage of smokers. The Twin Cities ranked 2nd on personal health indicators related to health behaviors, chronic health problems and health care. The area ranked 2nd on community/environmental indicators related to the built environment, recreational facilities, park-related expenditures, physical education requirements and primary health care providers.

Several factors contributed to the Twin Cities’ top ranking. The area has the highest percentage of residents who report getting physical activity or exercise in the last 30 days (85.9%) and relatively low smoking rate (15.3%). In the Twin Cities, the percentage of residents with chronic health concerns such as obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes is moderate-to-low. Another factor is that 92.9% of residents have health insurance.

While the area reduced park-related expenditures this year ($203 per capita), its percentage of parkland is still above average (16.7%), as is the percentage of recreational facilities (other than swimming pools). Farmers markets in the area also increased this year, indicating a trend in healthier eating.

In a future blog post, we’ll look at some of the programs, attractions and projects that are working to keep the Twin Cities in the top spot. For a complete list of the Twin Cities’ strengths and challenges, plus a breakdown of the components that helped make up its score, please visit the website and download the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area report.