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Twin Cities residents are 2nd-fittest in US – but exercise less than they used to

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Despite spending several months a year shut away from the cold, Twin Cities residents are still among the healthiest in the country.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is the second-fittest metro area in the United States, a study by the American Fitness Index found, thanks to its low levels of heart disease and accessibility to sports and recreation activities.

The study ranks Minneapolis-St. Paul behind only Washington D.C. for the years 2013-15, though this represents a fall from 2011-2013, when the Twin Cities was first.

Part of the reason for this drop, the report says, is that Twin Cities residents are exercising less than they used to, with 73.5 percent saying they had undertaken physical activity in the previous 30 days, compared to 76.7 percent in 2013 and 85.9 percent in 2011.

The cities also ranked poorly for healthy eating, with just 29 percent saying they eat at least two pieces of fruit a day, while just 14.8 percent consume three or more vegetables each day.

In spite of this, the Twin Cities is well below the average for cardiovascular disease, and has also seen the diabetes death rate fall from 24 per 100,000 to 14.5. However, at 24.5 percent, the metro area still has an obesity level higher than the AFI's target of 21.5 percent.

Sports, recreation options boost metro

Where the Twin Cities excels is the offering of healthy living options and enviable access to recreational activities.

The metro area was praised for its high number of farmers' markets, golf courses, dog parks, tennis courts, recreation centers and park playgrounds – as well as higher than average spending on parks.

And, given that Minneapolis was named the No. 1 city for biking last week, it's no surprise the Twin Cities scored well for the number of people biking or walking to work. Also in its favor is the high percentage of the population that lives within 10 minutes of a park.

Six out of the top 10 fittest cities in the country are found on the west coast, while most of the lowest scoring cities surveyed are in the south, with Dallas taking the lowest ranking followed by New Orleans.

Praise for Albert Lea

Outside of the metro area, the city of Albert Lea is attracting national interest for its efforts to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking and other physical activity.

Yes! Magazine wrote this feature on the city's "Blue Zones" program, which over the past six years has seen walking increase by 70 percent and bicycling by 74 percent. People taking part have lost a combined 8,000 pounds.

This has been achieved via a public education campaign highlighting the health benefits of walking and exercising; organizing social groups to walk and bike regularly, giving people more incentive to get off the couch; and making the city more appealing to pedestrians by eliminating unnecessary street lanes, widening or adding more sidewalks, and building a new bikeway.

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