From casual neighborhood runners to fitness fanatics, many Americans prioritize exercise. This is especially true at the start of the new year, when getting into shape tends to become a popular resolution. The World Health Organization suggests that adults aged 18 to 64 should complete 150 to 300 minutes of moderate cardio each week, which equals between 2.5 to five hours. This is in addition to at least a couple of muscle-strengthening exercises. Where you live, however, can make it easier or more difficult to get the exercise you need.
To uncover the most fitness-friendly places in America, take a look at our comparison of 304 metro areas, which we evaluated across an array of metrics that could benefit residents’ ability to live more fit lifestyles. Read the data and methodology section below for more details on how we found and analyzed our data.
This is SmartAsset’s ninth annual study on the most fitness-friendly places in the U.S. Read the previous version here.
- With pandemic restrictions easing, commuters are walking or biking to work less now. In 2020, the national average for this data point was 3.1%. But in 2021, the average percentage of residents who walk or bike to work fell to 2.6%, indicating that commuters are using other methods of transportation such as personal vehicles or public transit.
- Metro areas in the West dominate the top 10. Six areas – each belonging to a different state – comprise the top of the list, including the No. 1 ranking Missoula, Montana. These areas typically offer more access to fitness professionals and businesses. Comparatively, the Midwest and South have two metro areas in the top 10 while no Northeastern area made the cut.
1. Missoula, MT
Coming back for the third year in a row to reclaim the top spot, Missoula opened an additional eight fitness establishments over the year, bringing its new total to 139 per 10,000 establishments. This is still the second-highest rate in the study, however, behind Corvallis, Oregon. Even with the percentage of residents who walk or bike to work dropping slightly, Missoula went up from the No. 17 spot to No. 14 in this metric.
2. Iowa City, IA
Iowa City jumped from No. 12 to No. 2 in this year’s overall rankings. This is due to its drastic improvements in most of the study categories. There are 39 fitness professionals for every 10,000 workers and 92 fitness establishments for every 10,000 establishments. The city is also quite walkable and bikeable, snagging the No. 4 spot for the percentage of resident commuters who do either of the aforementioned activities (8.1%).
3. Flagstaff, AZ
Almost 8% of Flagstaff residents walk or bike to work, the fifth-highest rate in this study. The metro area also ranks 17th for fitness establishments, claiming 109 out of every 10,000 total establishments. Flagstaff also saw a nice boost in our overall rankings, jumping from the No. 7 spot to No. 3.
4. Madison, WI
Madison ranks in the top 20 for three categories: residents who walk or bike to work, fitness professionals for every 10,000 workers and fitness establishments for every 10,000 establishments. In the previous edition of this study, Madison was ranked No. 13.
5. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton, SC
Hilton Head Island-Bluffton places 10th with less than a third of its restaurants serving fast food. In terms of access, the area offers roughly 36 fitness professionals and 97 fitness establishments (per 10,000 residents and establishments, respectively). Additionally, nearly 3% of Hilton Head Island-Bluffton residents walk or bike to work.
6. Charlottesville, VA
Charlottesville saw significant improvement in our overall rank this year moving up 10 spots from No. 16 to No. 6. Charlottesville remains a popular metro area for walkers and bikers, with 4.9% of its residents walking or biking to work. It also claims the fifth spot for the number of fitness professionals available to every 10,000 workers (43).
7. Bellingham, WA
Just over 4% of Bellingham residents walk or bike to work, which trumps the study average by 1.4 percentage points. The metro area also ranks seventh for the percentage of restaurants that serve fast food. Pay for fitness professionals in Bellingham ranks toward the middle of the list with an average hourly wage of $21.51.
8. Bend, OR
There are 29 fitness professionals for every 10,000 workers in Bend, ranking 58th for this metric. It places seventh with 119 fitness establishments out of every 10,000 total establishments. Roughly 4.1% of residents walk or bike to work, which is 45th in this study.
9. Fort Collins, CO
Fort Collins has 108 fitness establishments out of every 10,000 total establishments, which is down from 111 last year. Around 4.8% of residents walk or bike to work, the 33rd-most out of all the areas in this study.
10. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA Metro Area
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles rounds out our top 10 list. The city ranks in the top 25 for both the number of fitness professionals (35) and fitness establishments (105) per 10,000.
Additionally, less than 40% of restaurants serve fast food offering less temptation for potentially unhealthy food options.
Data and Methodology
To find the most fitness-friendly places in the country for 2023, we examined data for 304 metro areas across the following five metrics:
- Percentage of residents who walk or bike to work. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2021 1-year American Community Survey.
- Concentration of fitness professionals. This is the number of fitness professionals per 10,000 workers. Our list of fitness professionals includes dietitians and nutritionists, recreational therapists, athletic trainers as well as fitness trainers and aerobics instructors. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics and is for May 2021.
- Concentration of fitness establishments. This is the number of fitness establishments per 10,000 establishments. Our list of fitness establishments includes sporting goods stores and fitness and recreational sports centers. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 Metro Area Business Patterns Survey.
- Concentration of fast-food restaurants. This is the percentage of restaurants that are limited-service establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 Metro Area Business Patterns Survey.
- Average hourly wage of personal trainers. Given the limited availability of direct data about the cost to consumers for personal training services, this metric acts as a proxy to indicate the relative affordability of hiring a personal trainer in a given metro area. Data comes from the BLS and is for May 2021.
First, we ranked each metro area in each metric. Then we found each place’s average ranking, giving all metrics a full weight except for the concentration of fast-food restaurants and the average hourly wage of personal trainers, each of which received a half weight. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The metro area with the highest average ranking received a score of 100, and the metro area with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Tips for Living a Financially Healthy Life
- Work with an expert. You can concentrate on your physical health if you get someone else to help with your financial health. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Adjust your budget. If you want to pay for a gym membership or other fitness costs, you’ll need to make sure it fits into your budget. Use SmartAsset’s free budget calculator to see how it fits into your spending plan.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/StefaNikolic