The West contributes most to the top 10 list of “Most Fit Cities” in the United States, yet it is the nation’s capitol that ranks highest overall. For the third year in a row, Washington, D.C. tops the American Fitness Index (AFI) chart, followed closely by Minneapolis-St. Paul. Rouding out the top 10 for 2016 are Denver, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Salt Lake City, Hartford, and San Diego.

The American College of Sports Medicine’s AFI report measures the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S., scoring health behaviors, chronic disease levels, access to care, and community resources that support physical activity. Released last week, this is the ninth annual AFI report.

Among the many factors contributing to the capitol’s outstanding scores are a lower percentage (than the target goal) of people currently smoking, lower death rates for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, more farmers’ markets and a higher percentage of parklands throughout the greater metropolitan area, and a high overall walk score. Other nitty-gritty factors examined in the report are whether or not most people are eating two or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, how often people exercise, and the number of people who are either obese or suffering from diabetes.

“Cities that ranked near the top of the index have more strengths and resources that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it. The opposite is true for cities near the bottom of the index,” wrote the authors of the report.

Importantly, the AFI report examines each city’s entire metropolitan area, thus representing the larger urban area as well. While the report draws on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States Department of Agriculture, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other sound sources, some of the data is self-reported and therefore likely to be inaccurate.

On a national level, there were some positive shifts when the authors compared their findings to last year’s. For instance, the percentage of people saying they’d exercised in the last 30 days increased by nearly 12 percent, while the number of smokers dropped by nearly 5 percent. Best of all, total fitness scores increased for 30 out of the 50 cities.

Scores slipped for 19 other cities, however, with the largest declines recorded in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, Sacramento, and San Diego. The report also revealed a 7 percent increase in the percentage of people with a diabetes diagnosis. The unfortunate 10 cities at the bottom of the chart include Houston in position 40, followed by Las Vegas, Detroit, Orlando, Birmingham, San Antonio, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma, and last of all, Indianapolis.

While each individual metric matters, the results of the new report suggest many Americans are neglecting exercise, one of the most important aspects of health.

Aerobics and Strength Training

The reason physical activity is so important is it helps control your weight, reduces your risk of disease, improves your mental health, and increases your chances of living longer.

The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes (two-and-a-half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, every week. Seventy-five minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging or running, will also suffice. Exercise time can be spread out during the week and broken into smaller chunks of time during the day as long as it lasts for at least 10 minutes at a time. Perhaps surprisingly, the elderly need double this amount of aerobic activity each week.

No matter whether you choose moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise, you’ll also need to add some muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups — the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms — on two or more days a week. Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, lifting weights, and working with resistance bands all qualify.

Community health is important and each of us can contribute by taking steps, literally, to increase our physical activity. Let's keep moving!