Runners in Bluemont Park

High school cross country meets are regularly held at Bluemont Park.

For the second consecutive year, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) ranked Arlington as the No. 1 fittest city in the United States.

In the report, Stephen Friedhoff, chief clinical officer of Anthem, Inc., said: “Arlington, Virginia’s balance of healthy behaviors and community infrastructure earned it the title of number one. Arlington ranked in the top 10 for 22 of the 33 indicators in the Fitness Index, with six indicators ranked number one. We congratulate Arlington for its impressive commitment to health, fitness and overall wellness on behalf of its residents.”

Arlington placed in the following categories:

* Residents performing any exercise in the last month.

* Residents meeting aerobic and strength activity guidelines.

* High reports of good or excellent health.

* Low rates of smoking, poor physical health, and pedestrian fatalities.

Arlington ranked No. 1 in both summary categories: personal health and community/environment.

“Arlington residents reported the most physical activity with 92.6 percent exercising in the previous month and 32.9 percent reporting meeting the aerobic and strength activity guidelines,” the report said.

Arlington ranked third for parks within a 10-minute walk and for eating three or more vegetables per day; fourth for lowest rates of high blood pressure; fifth for farmers markets and for parks per 10,000 residents; seventh for use of public transportation; eighth for eating two or more fruits per day and for lowest rates of heart disease; and ninth for lowest rates of stroke.

The report said: “Arlington residents reported the most physical activity with 92.6 percent exercising in the previous month and 32.9 percent reporting meeting the aerobic and strength activity guidelines.”

Arlington ranked high in other categories:

#3 for parks within a 10-minute walk (Madison, Wisc., ranked #1)

#3 for eating three or more vegetables per day (Washington, D.C., ranked #1)

#4 for lowet rates of high blood pressure (Boston ranked #1)

#5 for farmers markets (Washington ranked #1)

#5 for parks per 10,000 residents (San Franciso, Calif., ranked #1)

#7 for use of public transportation (New York, N.Y, ranked #1)

#8 for eating two or more fruits per day (Madison ranked #1)

#8 for lowest rates of heart disease (Lubbock, Texas, ranked #1)

#9 for lowest rates of stroke (Lubbock ranked #1)

The report emphasized, “The Fitness Index celebrates the tremendous efforts that all cities put into improving the health and well-being of their residents as we all move toward a healthier future for America.”

“Community activism clamoring for community infrastructure has been a core element of the 104-year history of Arlington County Civic Federation, which is one of the reasons Arlington today has the parks, fields, and trails needed for a community to keep fit,” Arlington County Civic Federation president Duke Banks said. “The challenge going forward is how to increase this community infrastructure for a growing population facing competing interests on how to use public land.”

Helping Arlington achieve its top ranking, Arlington has 49 miles of off-street paved multi-use trails, including Bluemont Junction Trail, Custis Trail, Four Mile Run Trail, Mount Vernon Trail, and Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

In addition, Arlington features unpaved natural trails at Dawson Terrace Park, Donaldson Run Park, Fort C. F. Smith Park, Glencarlyn Park & Long Branch Nature Center, Gulf Branch Park & Nature Center, Lacey Woods Park, Lubber Run Park, Potomac River & Heritage Trail, Rock Spring Park, Thrifton Hills Park, Tuckahoe Park, Windy Run Park, and Zachary Taylor Park.

Arlington lists the total lengths of all of these trails at https://parks.arlingtonva.us/off-street-trails.

Arlington is home to two of the largest races in the  U.S., Marine Corps Marathon and Army Ten Miler, each with more than 25,000 finishers in 2018.

Arlington hosts numerous other races, conducted by PTA, non-profits, Pacers Running Store and Potomac River Running Store, and clubs including Bishops Events, D.C. Road Runners Club, Potomac Valley Track Club, Safety and Health Foundation, Tidal Basin Run, and Virginia Happy Trails Running Club.

Arlington has 158 parks offering both natural greenspace and playing fields for every sport from baseball to bocce, listed at https://parks.arlingtonva.us/find-a-park.

In addition to outdoor activities, Arlington has many indoor facilities, including Thomas Jefferson Community Center, with an indoor 200-meter track that hosts programs all year for youngsters, high school students, and adults.

Runners World magazine covered the story with the teaser headline “What is the fittest city in America? The rankings are in, and here’s a hint: It hosts the Marine Corps Marathon and is home to ultramarathoner Michael Wardian.”

The 10 fittest cities listed in the article are: Arlington, Seattle, Wash.; Minneapolis; San Francisco; Madison, Wisc.; Washington, D.C.; St. Paul, Minn.; Irvine, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; and Portland, Ore.

The 10 least-fit cities are Corpus Christi, Texas; Arlington, Texas; Detroit; Bakersfield, Calif; Louisville; Indianapolis; Toledo; Tulsa; North Las Vegas and Oklahoma City.

Every year, more than 60 – and as many as 100 plus – runners from Arlington participant in the Boston Marathon, a high ratio for a county of 234,965.

Responding to the announcement of the survey, Arlington County Civic Federation president Duke Banks said: “Community activism clamoring for community infrastructure has been a core element of the 104-year history of Arlington County Civic Federation, which is one of the reasons Arlington today has the parks, fields, and trails needed for a community to keep fit. The challenge going forward is how to increase this community infrastructure for a growing population where Arlington County has no more undeveloped land and is facing competing interests on how to use public land. Unless the county can find ways to increase park acreage for casual space, fields, and trails, we are in danger of losing our position in rankings of this type.”

Also discussing the survey, Arlington County Department of Park and Recreation director Jane Rudolph said: “Fitness is flourishing in Arlington. Parks are quick and easy to get to, and we have 8.3 acres of parks per 10,000 residents. Our abundance of farmers’ markets, parks, playgrounds, and trails and a thriving walking and bike-friendly community also contribute to our overall fitness. Arlington is a great place to live, work and play.”

Ray Pugsley, owner of Potomac River Running Stores and a U.S. national champion both as a junior and as a masters runner, said, “Arlington is a fabulous place to be a runner or walker. People visiting are surprised at the number of miles of trails and at the diversity of surfaces to run, with everything from runner-friendly roads to paved bike trails to cinder horse trails to challenging single track along Potomac River’s shoreline. Not only does Arlington have the miles of infrastructure to keep running/walking fresh, we are blessed with good running stores and many activity-centered events to keep motivation levels high. At Potomac River Running, our Tuesday evening ladies run and Wednesday evening pub run are always well attended and attracting new participants. It is good to be a runner/walker and live in Arlington.”

Chris Farley in the owner of Pacers Running Store, which conducts races and weekly free group runs,.

“As a life-long Arlingtonian, I am not surprised Arlington County is the fittest city in America,” Farely said. “The county attracts high achievers who are health conscious.Combined with amazing parks and green spaces where we can run and work out, this area is really unmatched when you are out there sweating it out for your health.”

Historical note: Demonstrating how bicycle-friendly is Arlington County, former Arlington County Board chair Jay Fisette rode his bike to work almost every day of his 20-year tenure on the board.

Historical notes: Trail improvements take a long time, but patience is rewarded. Starting 40 years ago, Arlington County held public meetings to plan an extension to Four Mile Run Trail from Shirlington under Glebe Road and I-395 connecting with the pre-existing paved trail to National Airport. About 7 years ago, Arlington County completed the extension, and now bicyclists can ride from Falls Church to DCA all the way, except for two road crossings at Walter Reed Drive and Shirlington Road.

At the other end of Arlington County, starting 20 years ago, county officials and park advocates worked with Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Transportation to design a bike-friendly bridge over Lee Highway.

The project finally gained approval from all stakeholders, and now construction has begun. When done, the bridge will enable a continuous, stoplight-free paved bicycle/runner/walker trail on the W&OD Trail and Four Mile Run Trail from Walter Reed Drive over Lee Highway, over Leesburg Pike,all the way to Gallows Road in Fairfax County.

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