Northern fitness


Anchorage runners making healthy on the Crow Pass Trail/Jay Friesen via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being dragged down by Anchorage’s lack of sidewalks and its disconnected network of multi-use/bike trails, Alaska’s largest city scores big in the American Fitness Index just released by American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

The high points:

  • Fourth in the nation for citizens reporting they get some exercise every month.
  • Ninth in the nation for regular aerobic exercise.
  • Eighth in the nation for best air quality.
  • Ninth in the nation for parks per 10,000 residents.
  • Eighth in the nation for eating the recommended 3+ vegetables per day.
  • Fourth lowest stroke rate in the nation.
  • Tied with Reno, Nev., at 34.5 of 100 cities ranked for personal health.

The personal health ranking puts Anchorage well ahead of Scottsdale, Ariz., and just behind New York, which WalletHub has ranked among the 10 healthiest cities in the country.

New York did outscore Anchorage by 121 points in WalletHub “Fitness” category, but the grading system was skewed toward the big city with a double score for general physical activity (New Yorkers walk a lot because city traffic is so bad it makes driving a headache), and additional points for fitness centers, weight-loss centers and fitness-trainers/aerobics instructors per capita.

All of the later are trendy in the Big Apple, which scored a personal health rank of 33 in the ACSM report to put it just barely ahead of Anchorage.  The ACSM tied its score to standards focused on healthy behaviors and measurable health outcomes such as rates of obesity, smoking, asthma, high blood pressure, angina or coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and per-capita pedestrian fatalities.

The latter is a growing problem in Anchorage and elsewhere.

“Across the country, pedestrian fatalities have increased by 35 percent in the past decade
and are projected to exceed 6,200 fatalities in 2018, averaging more than 17 pedestrian deaths per day, with people of color and people in low-income communities experiencing the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities,” the report said.

The Governors Highway Safety Commission notes that U.S. pedestrian fatalities fell steadily from almost 6,500 in 1990 to 4,100 in 2009, but have been skyrocketing since the beginning of this decade.

The spike in pedestrian deaths mirrors a similar spike in wireless data traffic which ballooned from 388MB in 2010 to 15,687MB in 2017 – a fortyfold increase in only seven years.

“Although the surge in smartphone use coincides with a sharp rise in pedestrian fatalities during the same period,” the Governors’ report said, “there is a lack of evidence to establish a definitive link. This may be due in part to the inability of police crash investigators to accurately capture momentary distraction caused by smartphones, many of which are mounted on vehicle dashboards and windshields.

“That pedestrian deaths as a percent of total motor vehicle crash deaths have increased steadily in recent years (from 12 percent to 16 percent) could reflect, in part, the fact that passenger vehicles have become increasingly safer for vehicle occupants through design changes and supplemental safety equipment, thereby decreasing the chance of fatal injuries. Pedestrians, on the other hand, do not benefit from occupant-oriented vehicle crashworthiness improvements, and thus could account for an increasing share of total traffic fatalities.”

The study did spotlight a “15 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities in the nation’s 10 largest cities from 2016 to 2017 (which) might be attributable in part to aggressive traffic safety initiatives such as Vision Zero.”

Sponsored by health-care giant Kaiser Permanente, Vision Zero is aimed at making cities safer by design for pedestrians and cyclists. Anchorage is among the communities which have joined the Vision Zero Network, but the ACSM report would make it appear the municipality isn’t doing a very good job of meeting Vision Zero goals.


While Anchorage scores near the upper third among the country’s 100 largest cities in personal health, a bottom-of-the-barrel score of 92 for community and environment drags its overall score down to 62.

The community and environment scores depended heavily on bike and walk scores, and neighborhood parks – those within a 10-minute walk of one’s home. Though Anchorage has a lot of park acreage, it lacks for neighborhood parks.

And the municipality’s walk and bike scores are grim. The number-one “Walk Score” city in the ACSM report – New York – scores an 89. Anchorage earns a 32.

The municipality’s bike score is zero. The Walk Score website, which rates both walking and cycling, says simply that “Anchorage is a car-dependent city” where “most errands require a car.”

Bike scores, according to the website, are judged from zero to 100 based on four equally weighted components:

  • Bike lanes
  • Hills
  • Destinations and road connectivity
  • Bike commuting mode share

Minneapolis, a winter city like Anchorage only bigger, scores an 82, putting it just behind bike-filled Portland with an 81 as the best bike city in the country. The ACSM report said the top-25 cities in its report posted an average bike score of 62.3 versus Anchorage’s goose egg.

The overall, bottom-ranked city in the ACSM list of 100 – Oklahoma City – has a bike score of 40; it scored a 99 for community and environment. The city ranked dead last for community and environment – Gilbert, Az., a city southeast of Phoenix now home to almost 250,000 people – has a bike score of 51.

Anchorage’s closest competition for the worst of the worst bike score appears to be Winston-Salem, N.C., which scores a 23. Albuquerque – which Statista ranks as America’s deadliest city for cyclists based on a death rate of 8.9 per million, more than twice that of Los Angeles – posted a bike score of 60 despite the deaths.

The Walk Score website described Albuquerque as “somewhat bikeable.”

Anchorage could also be described as “somewhat bikeable” in the sense that that trailless wilderness of the nearby Chugach Mountains is “somewhat hikeable.” The alder-covered slopes might appear impenetrable, and first-time adventurers might find it a nightmare to fight their way through that brush, but it is not impossible.

Alaskans have their own term for the alder-fighting fun: alder-bashing. There is no term for cycling Anchorage, but give the municipality’s bike score maybe there should be.

















4 replies »

  1. All that legal marijuana doesn’t count for nothing? If you talk to the hopheads there is nothing a little cannabis can’t solve.

  2. Key here is this number is for Anchorage alone, not Alaska. The health index numbers would take a huge dive if the residents of Bush Alaska were included. Alaskan Natives now have an anti-health culture of obesity, lethargy and substance abuse. They’re probably the most unhealthy demographic of all US citizens.

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