National Senior Health & Fitness Day

Senior citizens celebrate National Senior Health & Fitness Day with activities in Patterson Park. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun / May 28, 2014)

The American Fitness Index has ranked Baltimore 25th of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in terms of overall fitness. The annual index measures city health based on preventative health behaviors, levels of chronic disease, access to healthcare and community resources and policies that support physical activity.

Washington, D.C., placed highest, while Memphis, Tenn., was ranked last on the AFI, which was established in 2008 by the American College of Sports Medicine and the WellPoint Foundation.

"The AFI data report is a snapshot of the state of health in the community and an evaluation of the infrastructure, community assets and policies that encourage healthy and fit lifestyles,"  Walter Thompson, chair of the AFI Advisory Board said in a statement. "These measures directly affect quality of life in our country’s urban areas."

Both personal health and community amenities are taken into account by the AFI. Personal health includes health behaviors and chronic health problems whereas community amenities measures built environment and recreational facilities.

While the Baltimore area's overall ranking was right in the middle, its community health ranking was much higher — 13th in the nation. This may be attributed in part to Baltimore rating well on measures such as farmers' markets and number of parks.

But Baltimore's personal heath rankings dragged the overall rating down. Ranked at number 33, the health and exercise habits of area residents leave much to be desired: 28.5% are obese and 10.5% have diabetes. The death rate per 100,000 from cardiovascular disease is 208.5, relatively high compared to 164.9 in the DC area.

Since type II diabetes, heart disease and obesity are linked to sedentary lifestyles, simply increasing the amount of active minutes in a person's day can drastically decrease the level of chronic disease in the Baltimore community, according to the ACSM.

In addition to the health consequences, poor personal health takes a toll on the economy. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, the direct annual costs of physical inactivity amounts to approximately $24 billion, or 9.4% of the nation’s health care expenditures.

The nationwide rankings and the particular findings on Baltimore can be found at americanfitnessindex.org.