Key takeaways:

  • CA’s Irvine and Long Beach emerge as the best cities for active lifestyles, based on a combination of 18 metrics, followed by Chandler, AZ 
  • Breaking down the rankings by activity types, Seattle is the most walkable city and Tampa ranks first for provision and cost of gyms
  • At the other end of the spectrum, Detroit, MI, Baltimore, MD, and Dallas, TX, are among the least active cities in the US

Leading an active and healthy life is a goal shared by Americans of all ages. This desire became even more poignant after spending almost a year cooped up inside and socially distancing during the pandemic. Besides your daily habits, where you live also carries immense weight in determining how active and healthy you can get, with some cities offering just the right mix of resources to help you find your inner runner or to simply get you to go for a walk.

While New York City and Boston might spring to mind when thinking about the quintessential active and walkable city – where keeping moving is often a must rather than an option – some other, less-hyped places around the US make it easy for residents to stay healthy by promoting an active lifestyle. The opposite also holds true, with some big urban hubs surprisingly offering less in this respect.

To find which cities offer an optimal mix of factors to help you reach your fitness goals, we started by looking at the 100 largest cities by population. We’ve analyzed cities based on several key indicators that foster an active lifestyle including venues for exercising, walkability, bike-friendliness, overall health, weather and natural conditions, including park space per capita, air quality index, days with precipitation, beach length and fitness club access and costs, as well as self storage costs – sports, biking and workout equipment is often kept in storage.

Western and Southern cities offer the best chance for an active lifestyle, with Irvine and Long Beach in the Lead

It’s true that rain and the cold can be a big turnoff when it comes to active lifestyles, as going out for a jog in Pittsburgh during the winter is a lot less achievable than in Miami, but sustainable urban infrastructure and indoor amenities can make up for weather-related drawbacks. In fact, Pittsburgh boasts the largest number of indoor fitness venues in the Northeast. Let’s see where residents are really supported by community amenities to stay active so you can plan your move towards a better living environment.

Best cities for active lifestylesWith a climate conducive to outdoor activities, a population that’s keen on physical activity, plus efforts from local authorities to preserve and foster better use of open space, Irvine emerges as the best city for active lifestyles. The Californian city enjoys about 2.4 fitness and recreational centers for every 10,000 people, almost double the national average, as well as beaches just 10 miles away – and they stretch for over 48 miles. Irvine residents are also very health-conscious, with the city emerging as the second-healthiest city in the US based on a combined ranking of physical activity, obesity, blood pressure, asthma and diabetes rates. A whopping 85% of adults here are physically active and 89% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, significantly better than the national average (approx. 55%).

In addition, Irvine is one the most bike-friendly cities in the country, and it also scores high for its walkability, with as many as 4.5% of Irvine dwellers choosing to walk to work. Nationally, 2.6% of working adults walk to their jobs. And as Irvine boasts access to so much beach, going surfing or simply planning a beach day is only a stone’s throw away from the city. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder Irvine turned into a roommate hotspot. Besides boasting a large number of roommates, Irvine also excels at the community amenities that rentals come with here, as it also tops the charts for the top-notch mix of options in this regard.

Besides Irvine, Long Beach is another Californian city that stands out as a hub for active lifestyles, popping up in second position in our national ranking. Long Beach has about 54.2 miles of beach on its doorstep – the third largest stretch of beach that is available within a 10-mile radius of any US city. Add to this the fact that Long Beach has about 2 fitness and recreational centers per 10,000 people, and it is clearly shaping up to be a fun, fit city. Biking helps a lot in this endeavor, with about 0.7% of the working population riding their bike to work.

Nobody can blame locals for taking their love of sports outdoors, whether they sign up for the Long Beach Marathon or they cheered on their favorite team at the national beach volleyball championship which recently took place in Long Beach. The city’s also fostering an active, carefree lifestyle that expands to the locals’ four-legged companions. Long Beach is home to Rosie’s Dog Beach, the only leash-free beach space for dogs in LA County.

Scottsdale excels not only at providing community amenities for rentals, but it also shines brightly when it comes to supporting a healthy and active lifestyle. In fact, Scottsdale emerges as the second-best city for gyms due to the combination of easy access to exercise venues and gym membership fees. From golf and family-friendly activities to water slides and dive-in movies, Scottsdale certainly doesn’t fall short of ways of staying fit while having fun. With such a wealth of activity-inclined options, The West's Most Western Town also comes through with flying colors as it emerges as the seventh-healthiest city in the US. While some neighborhoods may be more walkable than others, Old Town fares well in terms of walkability, with residents enjoying easy access to local amenities and entertainment.

man cycling in Scottsdale, AZ
Biking trail in North Scottsdale, AZ

As part of the DC metro area, Arlington, VA, is a vibrant city with a young demographic. Besides its high ratings for schools and easy commute, Arlington also comes off as the nation’s most bikeable city, thanks to its bike-friendly infrastructure and the locals’ penchant for getting their bicycles on the road when going places. This is hardly surprising given that neighboring DC is a bike-friendly city, with 1.5% of local residents there choosing this mode of transportation for commuting. But biking to work isn’t the only physically active commute choice as about 4.2% of locals have taken to walking to get to work, almost double the national share for the same mode of transportation.

Best cities for walkability, bikeability, outdoors livability and healthWhile the weather might not always be on your side if you live in Arlington, it’s easy to keep up an active lifestyle indoors. There are as many as 2.49 fitness and recreational centers per 10,000 people, so you can have your choice of workout locations. Only about 16% of adults are physically inactive in Arlington, paving the way for Arlington to become the third-healthiest American city.

Seattle might be known to be Bookstore Central or even Starbucks Central, but Emerald City has several other aces up its sleeve. A city governed by a strong sense of community, Seattle also sports the geography that’s conducive to group activities that keep you fit. Beaches, parks, rolling hills, and mountains are there to help you get or stay in shape. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always raining in The Emerald City, and even when it does, Seattleites brave it. The Puget Sound area in particular is excellent for outdoor fun, from exercising to jogging and hiking, and Seattle in fact has the most physically active big-city residents in the US. With a great infrastructure that encourages walking in most neighborhoods, Seattle is the most walkable city in the nation. Besides its enviable walkability, Seattle also gets high marks for its biking potential, coming in as the fifth-most bikeable city in the US. It also boasts one of the largest shares of residents commuting to work on foot in the country (10.7%).

View of Seattle, WA across lake Union
View of Seattle, WA across Lake Union

When they aren’t getting fit in the great outdoors, Seattleites can easily move their workout initiatives indoors, with 2.75 fitness and recreational centers available per 10,000 people. In fact, Seattle boasts the seventh-largest number of indoor workout centers in the country. With so many opportunities to maintain their well-being, most people in Seattle are in good health. Emerald City boasts the largest share of physically active persons (85%) per Centers of Disease Control data. As for overall health, Seattle turns out to be the fifth-healthiest city in the US, as locals tend to take advantage of the various opportunities to stay in shape that the city offers.

People living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are more likely to get active than the average American. The city is generous, with an environment that supports physical activity. Pittsburgh ranked 2nd nationally for its abundance of fitness centers, boasting 3.37 gyms per 10,000 people, and offering an indoor workout environment when the weather outside isn’t friendly. Furthermore, with an infrastructure designed to encourage bicycling and also with a high share of workers that commute to work by bike (1.6%), Pittsburgh takes fifth place for pedal-friendliness. Locals have access to an environment that is conducive to physical activity, as Pittsburgh ranks 7th for walkability. Additionally, you can easily find outdoor recreation, with the Steel City offering 504 square feet of park space per person.

Mellon Green Park in downtown Pittsburgh
Mellon Green Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

St. Petersburg, FL, rounds up our top 20 most active cities. With an enviably warm and sunny climate, it’s easy to see why locals would take out their bikes or even take to walking to enjoy the outdoors and stay fit at the same time. When it comes to access to outdoor resources, St. Petersburg might fall in the middle of the pack, but residents here still have access to about 15 miles of beach if they wish to have a day at the sea on their calendar. As for access to indoor workout opportunities, the city fares well as there are 2.2 gyms for every 10,000 residents – considerably above the national average of 1.2 gyms/10,000 people.

More than half of the 30 best cities for active lifestyles in our list are in the Southwest, with 11 of them situated in California and Arizona. With warmer and predominantly sunny weather, these locations are more likely to create a natural environment that fosters elevated physical activity in the out of doors. Other cities in colder climates, such as Arlington, VA, or Pittsburgh, PA, also made the cut, proving that staying in shape is achievable with a mix of the right resources.

What the experts are saying

Emily L. Mailey, Ph.D. , Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Kansas State UniversityEmily L. Mailey, Ph.D. , Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Kansas State University

Has the overall attitude of Americans towards keeping an active lifestyle changed in the past few years?

In some ways, I think the pandemic shifted our mindset around physical activity. In the early months of lockdown, taking a walk felt like one of the few safe things we could do to get out of the house. Rather than viewing physical activity as another added burden on our to-do list, it became an eagerly anticipated activity, and perhaps a necessity for managing stress, anxiety, and mood. The pandemic also exacerbated the already prominent trend of technology, engineering the need to be physically active out of our lives. Now more than ever, it is apparent that we need to be intentional about integrating movement into the day. Paying attention to the ways you feel better when you are active can provide a strong incentive to prioritize physical activity.

Whether indoors or outdoors, which activities have been the most popular lately? Did you notice a shift in people's preferences for specific activities following the pandemic?

The pandemic certainly influenced physical activity behaviors. When gyms and fitness facilities closed, people were forced to find alternative places and ways to be active, either at home or outdoors. We saw an increase in outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and walking in neighborhoods, as well as increased activity at home, often using online resources such as websites or apps. The good news is, these types of activities are enjoyable, inexpensive, and sustainable. I hope one thing people learned during the pandemic is that you don't need a gym to be active.

Do you think regionality correlates with physical activity?

There is definitely evidence that people are more active in certain regions of the US (and the world) than others. The reasons for these differences are complex, and most likely a combination of social and cultural norms, accessibility to appealing outdoor spaces to be active, weather, active people's desire to live in certain places, and a host of other factors. No matter where you live, there are lots of ways to be active. The most important this is to find an activity you enjoy so that you want to make time for it in your busy life.

Christopher A. Hopper, Professor, Department of Kinesiology & Recreation Administration, Humboldt State University Christopher A Hopper, Professor, Department of Kinesiology & Recreation Administration, Humboldt State University

Has the overall attitude of Americans towards keeping an active lifestyle changed in the past few years?

Overall, many Americans still find ways to maintain an active lifestyle. As gyms and fitness studios closed with the pandemic, the workout location became the home environment. There was an increase in the use of fitness videos and other virtual programs beamed directly into the home. Americans became innovative in their approaches to exercise routines making a workout space in their homes and the working from home format provided additional discretionary time without a commute. For those who did not have a regular exercise routine prior to the pandemic, there were new opportunities to exercise at home, but in some cases, individuals became less active. This is cause for concern as this segment of the population is not able to receive the health benefits associated with regular exercise. There are health benefits from moderate exercise and helping all age groups understand this is an important public health goal for the entire community.

Whether indoors or outdoors, which activities have been the most popular lately? Did you notice a shift in people's preferences for specific activities following the pandemic?

Individual activities in the outdoors were popular during the pandemic. One activity to grow in popularity was golf, a game that includes natural social distancing in an outdoor setting. Walking also increased as families spent time outside together and school physical education teachers were encouraging families to be active. As we prepare to move into fall, with mostly back to normal schedules, many adults will welcome the group exercise setting again. The social interactions in exercise are motivating, and generally, people attend an exercise class where they really like the instructor. Enthusiastic exercise leaders can have a positive impact since enjoyment is probably one of the largest factors in ensuring continued and successful participation in an exercise program. Our greatest challenge is to help people develop a motivational strategy that will support their continued participation in an exercise program. For most people, just doing some exercise is better than doing nothing. There are health benefits from moderate exercise and helping all age groups understand this is an important public health goal for the entire community.

The pandemic supported the fact that many physical activities can be done from a home environment without paying fees for club membership. Walking and riding a bicycle are just a few examples. In the home, push-ups and other strength development and stretching activities are easily done in the living room even while watching TV. We should encourage people to think about how daily routines can be adjusted to provide increased lifestyle physical activity, such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Exercise breaks during the day are another approach that may be possible for some. For seniors, daily stretching and strengthening activities can be critical for continued independent living.

Do you think regionality correlates with physical activity?

Specific regions of the country based on climate may better support an active lifestyle. In the southern regions, the mild winters can be attractive to those who like to be active in the outdoors. However, this changes in summer when extreme heat inhibits outdoor activities. Cold and wet regions of the country will tend to keep people inside and outside activities can be challenging in the winter months. But much depends on the resources and community structures that exist in any location in the country. A community-wide effort can make a difference. Schools, parks and recreation, fitness clubs, and businesses can work together to develop strategies to support an active lifestyle. A local coordinating committee of agency and program heads can be helpful in raising awareness about programs and opportunities for specific groups. In planning new developments and construction, the opportunity to promote physical activity needs to be considered, such as, including bike lanes included on roads and making sidewalks available for walking. The “built environment” can inhibit or promote active living.

For children, regardless of location in the country, community resources and programs with professional staff can be influential in establishing an active lifestyle. Getting children moving and having fun with movement early in life is key. Parents should select a preschool/childcare center that provides time for basic movements such as pushing and pulling large toys that use the large muscle groups of the body. Research suggests that exercise behaviors are established early in life and preschoolers should get plenty of time for exercise throughout the day. The home environment should also support regular physical activity opportunities. For some children, competitive sports are a good match, but many children drop out of sports around ages 12/13. Therefore, introducing children to a broad range of activities early in life is important. Girls tend to be less active than boys in adolescence so extra attention is needed to help girls maintain an active lifestyle. Parents should ask about the quality of the local school physical education program and make sure it includes physical fitness and motor skill development, not just playing inactive games that eliminate children from participation. The school program should accommodate all skill levels and promote engagement and activity for all, including those with disabilities.

Methodology

This analysis was done by STORAGECafé, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.

To determine the best cities for active lifestyles, we ranked the 100 most populous cities, based on their overall scores, from 1 to 100. Overall scores were calculated as an average of each city’s weighted scores based on six main metrics, which also included a total of 18 secondary metrics, as seen below.

Data on parks and recreation areas with open access was included in our report with permission from the Trust for Public Land's ParkServe database, which is made available under the Open Database License.

Fair Use and Distribution

This study serves as a resource for the general public on issues of common interest and should not be regarded as investment advice. The data is true to the best of our knowledge but may change if amendments to it are made. We agree to the distribution of this content but we do require a mention in return for attribution purposes.

Author

Mirela is a creative writer for STORAGECafé. With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art. You can contact Mirela via email.

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