Cardio Across the Country

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There are dozens of lists out there telling you where to find the healthiest cities in the country — big cities like Denver, Portland, and Seattle always seem to top them. But we at ABODO know that you aren’t always looking to move hundreds of miles to fulfill your athletic and outdoorsy hopes and dreams. So instead, we’ve crunched the numbers to find the best spots in every state for an active lifestyle.

For every county in the U.S., we calculated scores for two categories of local fitness data: opportunity and culture. A county’s opportunity score is primarily determined by access to exercise opportunities (75%), which considers how close residents live to parks and recreational facilities, such as gyms, pools, and other community centers. Access to food (25%), which considers prevalence of grocery stores as well as the availability of healthy food, is also part of the opportunity score. A county’s culture score takes into account rates of physical inactivity, excessive drinking, smoking, and obesity, in an effort to quantify the population’s lifestyle choices — because it’s a lot easier to skip the cheese curds and go for a run when you aren’t the only one. For the final ranking scores, we weighted the opportunity score 75% and the culture score 25%. (See the Methodology section at the end of this article for the the full formula breakdown.)

Average Active Lifestyle Scores by State

Before we break down the best spots in every state, let’s take a look at the states in general. New Jersey topped the list with an average score of 86.4 — even though healthiest county in the country went to Fairfax, Virginia, which earned 95. New England continued to make up the bulk of the top spots, with Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, and New York all making the top 10. Hawaii and California also nudged in at #7 and #8 respectively.

The Midwest tends to land in the middle, with Michigan earning 73.6, Ohio 70.8, Wisconsin 68.7, and Minnesota 68.6, while many of the Southern and Plains states are at the bottom of the list. Mississippi took 50th, with 52.4.

SOUTHWEST

Southwest: Best County in Each State for Active Lifestyles

ARIZONA: Maricopa County
State Score: 65.5  |  County Score: 86.4
Arizona’s capital, Phoenix, anchors its most active county. Although Phoenix was recently ranked as one of the country’s least-healthy cities (in terms of availability of doctors, fitness, and health insurance coverage), Maricopa has nearly a dozen parks and holds one of the best cities in the nation for biking: Tempe.

NEW MEXICO: Los Alamos County
State Score: 66.1  |  County Score: 91.5
Los Alamos may be the smallest county in New Mexico, but it is by far the wealthiest, with a median household income of over $100,000. Many of its inhabitants are scientists or engineers at the government’s The Los Alamos Research Institute, which concentrates infrastructure and could account for the county’s extremely high (93.9) opportunity score.

TEXAS: Reagan County
State Score: 62.9  |  County Score: 88.7
Although this sparsely-populated county in West Texas has a high obesity rate (30.1), it scores well for access to exercise opportunities (92.8) and for food environment index (9.1).

OKLAHOMA: Oklahoma County
State Score: 57.0  |  County Score: 83.7
Oklahoma as a whole scores poorly, almost 10 points below the national average score of 68.3. But Oklahoma County, which is home to the state capital (and largest city) Oklahoma City, exhibits strong numbers, particularly when it comes to access to exercise opportunities (score: 93.2).

MIDWEST

Midwest: Best County in Each State for Active Lifestyles

ILLINOIS: DuPage County
State Score: 67.8  |  County Score: 92.3
Cook County, where Chicago is, is a close third in the Illinois race, with a score of 90.2. (Lake County score #2 in the state with 90.3.) DuPage, just west of Cook, is home to Aurora, the state’s second-biggest city, which was recently named one of the country’s best cities for families. DuPage also as the distinction of having the lowest rate of smokers in Illinois (just 11.6%, compared with Cook’s 15.6%) and one of the lowest in our rankings.

INDIANA: Hamilton County
State Score: 67.2  |  County Score: 87.6
Roughly a quarter of Hamilton County’s adults are obese — the third-lowest rate in Indiana, which typically sees a rate of 30% or more. Just north of Marion County (81.1), which holds Indianapolis, Hamilton County still reaps the benefits of nearby metropolitan life and employment while enjoying lower rates of smoking and physical inactivity, more access to healthy foods and parks, trails, and rec centers.

IOWA: Polk County
State Score: 68.8  |  County Score: 85.6
Polk County holds Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines. Overall, the county scored similarly with the rest of the state in terms of culture (smoking, obesity, inactivity, and excessive drinking), but Polk pulled ahead when it came down to exercise opportunities, with a score of 91.7.

KANSAS: Johnson County
State Score: 62.7  |  County Score: 91.3
On Kansas’ far eastern edge, and just southwest of Kansas City, MO, Johnson County is the most populated county in Kansas. Overland Park, the county’s main city, was recently named the best city in the U.S. for families. Among the criteria that earned it that ranking, the city’s access to recreation opportunities — such as the Overland Park Arboretum — also earned it the top spot in Kansas for active lifestyles.

MICHIGAN: Oakland County
State Score: 73.6  |  County Score: 87.2
As Detroit’s population has continued to decline over the past two decades, from more than 1 million in 1990 to about 700,000 in 2010. During the same time frame, the population of Oakland County, just to the north of Detroit’s Wayne County, continued to grow. With people moving into cities like Troy and Farmington Hills, exercise opportunities followed, though Wayne County’s high obesity rate of 33.5% did not.

MINNESOTA: Wabasha County
State Score: 68.6  |  County Score: 92.7
The difference between Minnesota’s average score and Wabasha County is radical — about 24 points difference in the land of hot dishes and cheese curds. But with a state as large as Minnesota, with a mix of rural and urban extremes, there are bound to be variations that pull down the average. Wabasha is in the southeast corner of the state, far from Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Cloud, and Duluth. Near Rochester, Wabasha’s health-minded culture is lacking — mainly due to high obesity — but it scored a perfect 100 for exercise opportunities and a high 8.9 for food index.

MISSOURI: St. Louis County
State Score: 61  |  County Score: 87.9
Interestingly, St. Louis County doesn’t actually contain St. Louis, which is an independent city, yet the two have a complicated and overlapping history. St. Louis County has a smoking rate of only 16.6%, while the city has a whopping 25.5%. The county has a moderate food index of 7.1 out of 10, and the city sits at 5. The city does have slightly better access to exercise, but it isn’t enough to take the lead. The city’s final score was 83.7 compared with the county’s 87.9.

NEBRASKA: Douglas County
State Score: 58.9  |  County Score: 88.6
Douglas County is home to Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city, which has over 80 miles of multi-purpose running/biking/hiking trails. The county has a stellar 97.5 rating for access to exercise opportunities. It also has a relatively high excessive drinking score, with 22.5% of the population reporting either binge drinking or heavy drinking. (Perhaps we can blame it on The University of Nebraska Omaha.)

NORTH DAKOTA: Cass County
State Score: 58.1 |  County Score: 81.2
Cass County is home to Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city. Nearly 15% of the state’s population lives there, and seemingly all of them drink: at Cass County has the highest drinking rate of any county on this list, with 25.9% of respondents reporting binge or excessive drinking.

OHIO: Medina County
State Score: 70.8  |  County Score: 87.7
Medina County has the second-lowest smoking rate (15.9%) in the state of Ohio, as well as one of the highest scores for access to exercise opportunities (94.3). Its suburban location, near both the infrastructure of both Cleveland and Akron, likely helps account for its high opportunity score.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Pennington County
State Score: 56.9  |  County Score: 85.6
Pennington County is the second-most-populous in South Dakota. Although its scores are somewhat pedestrian when compared to national averages, it scores remarkably well in South Dakota, particularly in access to exercise opportunities, for which it has the highest score in the state. This is likely due to the infrastructure of Rapid City, the second-largest metropolitan area in this largely rural state, as well as Pennington County’s multiple state and national parks, which include Mount Rushmore and Badlands.

WISCONSIN: Dane County
State Score: 68.7  |  County Score: 88.7
Dane County’s seat, Madison, is home to The University of Wisconsin, recently named one of the nation’s healthiest college campuses. The county’s extensive biking trail network and abundant water recreation no doubt contribute to its high Exercise Access score of 95.1. But all those college kids probably also contribute to the county’s excessive drinking score of 25.5, the second-highest on this list.

SOUTHEAST

Southeast: Best County in Each State for Active Lifestyles

ALABAMA: Madison County
State Score: 57.3  |  County Score: 78.8
Madison County’s largest city, Huntsville, is on track to soon become Alabama’s largest city, set to beat out Birmingham by 2022. And it’ll be a good influence for the state, too, beating the state average score by more than 20 points.

ARKANSAS: Montgomery County
State Score: 54.5  |  County Score: 85.3
Typically the counties that dominate these rankings contain bustling metro centers, but that’s not the case for Montgomery County, which has a total population of less than 10,000. With Mount Ida as it’s seat, Montgomery lies almost entirely within Arkansas’ Ouachita National Forest — and you can’t beat that access. (Sorry, Little Rock. Pulaski County earned just 76.9.)

FLORIDA: Miami-Dade County
State Score: 71.5  |  County Score: 91.7
In terms of only access to exercise, Miami-Dade County excels, with a score of 98.9. Although much of the county is urban — Miami and Hialeah taking up much of the area — the western edge overlaps Everglades National Park, in addition to the dozens of gyms, parks, and trails the area has to offer. And it’s an oceanfront county, so everyone is paying attention to their beach body.

GEORGIA: Union County
State Score: 62.5  | County Score: 91.6
Along with five other counties in the U.S., Union County scored earned a full 100 — a perfect score — for access to exercise opportunities, likely because much of the county land falls on the Chattahoochee National Forest. Union, with county seat Blairsville, is surprisingly small, with a population of just 21,000. By comparison, Georgia’s largest city, Atlanta, resides in Fulton County, which scored 82.8. The state’s worst county, Hancock, yielded 25.2 — one of the worst scores nationwide.

KENTUCKY: Fayette County
State Score: 61.9  |  County Score: 87.5
Lexington, which is consolidated with Fayette County, is second only to Louisville for largest Kentucky cities. As is often the case for large cities, Louisville (in Jefferson County) earned a lower overall score due to higher obesity and excessive drinking rates, and Fayette, though less populated, has more active residents and more opportunities to exercise. Surprisingly, both counties had mediocre access to food. Out of 10, both Fayette and Jefferson counties earned 6.9, slightly below the state average of 7.

LOUISIANA: Jefferson Parish
State Score: 61.3  |  County Score: 87.6
Rather than counties, Louisiana arranges its municipalities in parishes. Despite not being home to any of Louisiana’s big cities — New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette — Jefferson is still the second most-populated parish in the state, likely due to overflow from the nearby New Orleans. Home to Gretna, Jefferson contains part of the Salvador Wildlife Management Area and is technically more than 50% water — plenty to be active on.

MISSISSIPPI: Jackson County
State Score: 52.4  |  County Score: 77.9
Far removed from the city of Jackson (in Hinds County), Jackson County rises to the top of Mississippi’s best places for an active lifestyle — but as far as this ranking of counties is concerned, it assumes last place. Mississippi as a whole also landed in spot #50, with the lowest average score of any state. Along the Gulf Coast, Jackson County and its seat Moss Point had nearly a third of its residents report being physically inactive, and access to exercise is also limited.

NORTH CAROLINA: Avery County
State Score: 68.8 |  County Score: 90.2
Although it is above the national average, Avery County’s culture score of 78.9 is on the lower end of this list, reflecting middle-of-the-road figures for adult obesity and smoking. But it helps to be located almost entirely in national forests and protected areas: Avery County is in the Appalachian Mountains, and its land forms part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest, and Grandfather Mountain State Park. That explains why the county has a perfect 100 for access to exercise opportunities.

SOUTH CAROLINA: McCormick County
State Score: 63.7  |  County Score: 86.3
McCormick County is South Carolina’s smallest, both geographically and according to population. Its culture score of 75.5 is rather low, reflecting high rates of adult obesity (34%) and physical inactivity (31.9%). But its exercise opportunity score of 97.3 is high, reflecting the region’s proximity to several state parks along the Savannah and Little Rivers.

TENNESSEE: Unicoi County
State Score: 59.8  |  County Score: 88.6
With high rates of both adult obesity (31.8%) and physical inactivity (35.2%), Unicoi County might seem an unlikely choice for healthiest in Tennessee. But a very low excessive drinking rate (10.7, second-lowest on this list) as well as a perfect 100 for access to exercise opportunities helps balance things out. The county is located entirely within the Blue Ridge Mountain range and is home to several state and national parks.

VIRGINIA: Fairfax City
State Score: 70.6  |  County Score: 95
Fairfax City’s opportunity score of 99.3 is the highest in the country. Its close proximity to Washington D.C. — recently ranked as the second-healthiest city in the country by Forbes, it lies just across the Potomac — in part explains its high exercise access score (a perfect 100), since many of the National Mall’s monuments and museums are technically located in the National Park system. But this independent, county-equivalent city also has hundreds of miles of trails in over 23,000 acres of county parks. It also has this list’s highest food environment Index score: 9.7.

WEST VIRGINIA: Tucker County
State Score: 60.3  |  County Score: 88.6
Rural, sparsely-populated Tucker County is home to 10 national- or state-protected areas, which partly accounts for its high opportunity score of 93.6. But it is also this list’s highest figure for physical inactivity (36.6%) and adult obesity (35.9%). West Virginia as a whole displays similarly high figures in these categories as well.

WEST

West: Best County in Each State for Active Lifestyles

ALASKA: City and Borough of Juneau
State Score: 56.6  |  County Score: 91
Alaska’s extremely low state score (ranked #48 overall) isn’t a huge surprise — though it’s the U.S.’s second-largest state, it’s one of our least populated and therefore lacks some of the infrastructure to make exercise opportunities readily available. That said, the state is a wilderness wonderland. Alaska’s second-largest city, Juneau, offers the best chances in the state with a score of 91, while the more-populated Anchorage trailed with 84.4

CALIFORNIA: San Mateo County
State Score: 79.9  |  County Score: 93.1
Located on the San Francisco Peninsula, just between San Fran and San Jose, San Mateo has dozens of parks, beaches, and trails. Redwood City and Daly City are two of its most-populated areas, though the county is mainly urban.

COLORADO: Douglas County
State Score: 73.9  |  County Score: 93.3
In central Colorado, Douglas County is between two of the state’s largest hubs: Denver and Colorado Springs. Although it was a close call, Douglas beat out Denver (89.9) and Boulder (91.2).The county, home to Castle Rock, also earned the distinction of having the lowest physical inactivity rate of the counties in this ranking. Only 11.1% of adults report that they participate in no leisure time physical activity.

HAWAII: Honolulu County
State Score: 83.5  | County Score: 88.4
No surprises here: Hawaii as a whole is pretty healthy and full of opportunity. Honolulu County, home to Hawaii’s largest city of the same name, is the center of the action, despite moderate excessive drinking (20.1%)  and obesity (21.9%) ratings.

IDAHO: Blaine County
State Score: 66.1  |  County Score: 86.3
Although Ada County is where you’ll find Idaho’s largest city, Boise, Blaine County is where you’ll find the highest per capita income in the state, freeing up funds to pursue exercise and recreation. With low obesity and smoking rates, as well as low alcohol-impaired driving deaths, Blaine County leads the state as the best fit for an active lifestyle.

MONTANA: Missoula County
State Score: 57.9  |  County Score: 83.5
Missoula County is the second-most-populous in the state, and is home to an eco-conscious population, as well as thousands of college students attending the University of Montana. Missoula’s proximity to some of Montana’s most beautiful outdoor attractions — Flathead Lake, Lolo National Forest, and Glacier National Park are all within driving distance — helps foster an active, outdoorsy lifestyle.

NEVADA: Carson City
State Score: 61.9  |  County Score: 88.4
It’s perhaps no surprise that Nevada’s healthiest area is far from the Vegas Strip. Carson City (which is a county-equivalent independent city) has a particularly high exercise opportunity score of 91, well above the national average. Such a high score reflects the abundant hiking to be found in the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada, which overlook the city.

OREGON: Washington County
State Score: 73.9  |  County Score: 90.7
With one of the lowest rates of physical inactivity (13.7%) on our list, as well as a high score for access to exercise opportunities (97.3%), it’s safe to say that Washington County is an active part of Oregon. Maybe it’s the shoes: One of the area’s largest cities is Beaverton, home of Nike’s corporate headquarters.

UTAH: Davis County
State Score: 69.5  |  County Score: 89.4
Davis County, whose largest city is Layton, is firmly middle-of-the-pack for both culture (85.2) and opportunity (90.9) scores. But when it comes to destructive habits, the county is extraordinary: It has the lowest rate of adult smoking and excessive drinking on our list. Only 8.1% of adults in the county smoke, and only 10.4% report drinking to excess or binge drinking.

WASHINGTON: King County
State Score: 73.9  |  County Score: 90.7
Seattle, the King County seat, is widely considered one of the most health-conscious cities in the nation (Forbes ranks it at #8). King County’s culture score of 93.3 is in the top 10 of our rankings, and its percentage of adults who smoke is in the bottom five, at only 10.4%.

WYOMING: Teton County
State Score: 69.2  |  County Score: 91.1
It’s perhaps no surprise that the home of Grand Tetons National Park — one of the country’s best hiking and climbing destinations — would boast a high opportunity score of 93.1. Teton County also claims the lowest figures on this list for both adult obesity (12.5%) and physical inactivity (10.6%).

NORTHEAST

Northeast: Best County in Each State for Active Lifestyles

CONNECTICUT: Fairfield County
State Score: 86.3  |  County Score: 90.6
All of Connecticut’s eight counties ranked pretty closely, putting Fairfield County’s winning score very close to the stage average. Four of Connecticut’s largest cities — Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, and Danbury — are in Fairfield County, which itself is just 35 miles from Manhattan.

DELAWARE: New Castle County
State Score: 77.7  |  County Score: 90.6
One of the country’s smallest states, Delaware has just three counties. And New Castle won by a landslide of nearly 16 points. Wilmington, the state’s largest city by a wide margin, is the center of opportunity for active lifestyles, despite the moderate rates of excessive drinking, smoking, and obesity.

MAINE: Cumberland County
State Score: 66.8  |  County Score: 81.6
Home to Portland, Cumberland County has a varied health record. Maine was recently deemed the most obese state in New England, with an average obesity rate of nearly 30%. Cumberland County fares a little better, with just 22% of its adults in the obese category and only 15.9% reporting physical inactivity, but also with an exceptionally high rate of excessive drinking, at 21.3% of adults regularly over-indulging.

MARYLAND: Montgomery County
State Score: 79.6  |  County Score: 94.7
All of Maryland’s counties have fairly low smoking and inactivity rates (though obesity is a different story). Montgomery, home to Rockville and Gaithersburg, stands out with fantastic access to exercise — 99.9% of its population lives within reasonable distance of a place to work up a sweat. The county also has one of the best scores for food index in the country, with 9.2 (out of 10).

MASSACHUSETTS: Middlesex County
State Score: 85.9  |  County Score: 90.9
In general, Massachusetts is a pretty active, healthy state, with one of the highest average state scores nationwide — likely aided by the state’s small size. Although it doesn’t house the state’s largest metropolitan hubs, such as Boston or Worcester, Middlesex County does hold Lowell and Cambridge, the latter of which is home to Harvard University. Essex had Middlesex slightly beat in terms of exercise opportunities, but it came down to smoking and obesity, Middlesex took the lead.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Hillsborough County
State Score: 79.6  |  County Score: 87.6
Hillsborough is the most populous county in New Hampshire, and one of the most populous in New England. It encompasses Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, as well as hundreds of square miles of state and national parkland — a perfect storm of infrastructure that no doubt contributes to the county’s exercise opportunity score of 92.

NEW JERSEY: Bergen County
State Score: 86.4  |  County Score: 92.9
With an exercise opportunity score of 99.1 — one of the highest in the country — residents of Bergen County have no excuse to be sedentary. Such easy access may be due to the county’s proximity to New York City: Bergen County is just over the George Washington Bridge from New York City.

NEW YORK: Nassau County
State Score: 76.5  |  County Score: 93.6
Nassau County is the most affluent county in the state of New York, and one of the wealthiest per-household in the country. Its location on Long Island offers both concentrated infrastructure and outdoor exercise opportunities (particularly on the water), as well as easy access to New York City. Its food environment index of 9.5 is the highest in the country.

PENNSYLVANIA: Montgomery County
State Score: 74.9  |  County Score: 89.5
This wealthy suburban county outside Philadelphia has a high opportunity score of 92.5, reflecting the region’s easy access to healthy foods (food environment index: 8.4) and disposable income with which to purchase it. Montgomery County’s proximity to Philadelphia also could account for its high exercise access score: 95.3.

RHODE ISLAND: Providence County
State Score: 84.8  |  County Score: 86.5
Rhode Island’s small size is good news for its opportunity score, since opportunity is a combination of access to exercise opportunities and food environment, both of which are dictated by distance. Providence County’s dense population and small geographic area contributes to a high exercise access score of 95.1.

VERMONT: Chittendon County
State Score: 70.2  |  County Score: 85.9
With relatively low rates of physical inactivity, adult smoking, and obesity — categories for which Chittendon county ranks in the bottom 10 — Vermont’s most populous county has one of the higher culture scores (82) on this list. The urban infrastructure of Burlington, the largest city in this primarily rural state, no doubt contributes to the county’s respectable exercise opportunity score, which is far higher than this rural state’s average.

 

METHODOLOGY

The total active scores were calculated by first computing a “culture score” and an “opportunity score” for each county in the United States.

The culture score of a county was calculated as an equally weighted sum of four factors: excessive drinking, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Excessive drinking measured the percentage of the adult population who reported either binge drinking [consuming more than 4 (women) or 5 (men) alcoholic beverages on a single occasion in the past 30 days] or heavy drinking [drinking more than 1 (women) or 2 (men) drinks per day on average]. Obesity measured the percentage of the adult population with a BMI of 30 or higher, and smoking was the percentage of adults who were habitual smokers. Physical inactivity measured the percentage of adults who reported no leisure-time physical activity.

Culture Score (100%) = binge drinking (25%) + smoking (25%) + obesity (25%) + physical inactivity (25%)

The opportunity score of a county was calculated as a weighted sum of two factors: percentage of the population with access to exercise facilities (defined as gyms, parks, community centers, etc.), and a food environment index — a score between 1 and 10 that considers both the percent of the population with access to healthy foods and the percent of the population with access to a reliable food source throughout the year. This score was multiplied by 10 in order be on a scale from 1 to 100. Access to exercise facilities carried a 75% weight and the food environment index carried a 25% weight in the calculation of the opportunity scores.

Opportunity Score (100%) = access to exercise facilities (75%) + food environment index (25%)

The final calculation of total scores for each county is a weighted sum of the culture score and opportunity score, with 25% weight on the culture score and 75% weight on the opportunity score.

Total Score (100) = opportunity score (75%) + culture score (25%)

Upon calculating the total active score for each county in the United States, the counties were ranked separately within each state to determine the best county in each state to lead an active lifestyle. All data used in this analysis was taken from CountyHealthRankings.org, and further information about the collection and definition of each type of data can be found there.