Fitbit ranks the fittest countries and U.S. cities

Are you sitting down? Probably. The results of anonymous, aggregated, global Fitbit user data reveals that the U.S. needs to seriously step up its game.

fitbit user data
Credit: Fitbit

I’ll admit it: I was surprised by how the U.S. (and California, where I live) fared in terms of fitness, based on newly released aggregated and anonymous Fitbit user data. And it’s interesting to compare Fitbit’s findings to other recent data on how we’re doing, as a country and as individual metro areas, regarding fitness.

Fitbit’s data comes from more than 20 million users in 65 countries. In ranking countries and U.S. cities in terms of fitness, data collected from Fitbit devices includes average daily steps, active minutes, Reminders to Move goals met, resting heart rate and sleep duration.

The top five fittest countries are Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. The United States fared poorly, ranking no. 28.

Delving into specifics, Fitbit says Spain racked up the most steps per day, averaging 9,023. In this category, the U.S. ranked — are you sitting down? — no. 29, with an average of 7,556 steps daily.

Okay, so how did the U.S. do in terms of getting sleep? Surely, if we’re step laggards, we’re at least sawing some serious logs? Nope. We ranked no. 23, well behind the champions of sleep in the U.K.

How did America do in terms of achieving at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense aerobic activity every week, for an average range of 22.3 to 27.9 active minutes per day? This one is downright embarrassing. The U.S. ranked no. 33, with an average of 16.5 active minutes per day. The top countries in this category: Switzerland, Germany, the U.K., Ireland and Belgium.

So, which U.S. cities are the fittest, according to Fitbit’s user data? Duluth, Minn., killed it, at no. 1, followed by Appleton, Wisc.; Eau Claire, Wisc.; Boulder, Colo.; Bellingham, Wash.; Madison, Wis.; Billings, Mont.; Rochester, Minn.; Spokane, Wash.; and Eugene, Ore.

In other words, Wisconsin is clearly doing its part to up the U.S. fitness game, with the most cities in the top 10 (a total of three) and with Green Bay, Wisc. in the 11th spot.

California, despite its reputation for being ultra health-conscious, is nowhere to be found among the top 30 cities. I'm surprised San Francisco, Portland and Seattle didn't make the top 30 list, especially since they ranked so well in two other surveys (see below).

salesforce tower Salesforce.com

A rendering of the Salesforce.com office tower in San Francisco.

The American Fitness Index

But how does Fitbit’s user data compare to other recent rankings of the fittest places?

The May 2017 update to the ACSM American Fitness Index, now in its 10th year, comes to different conclusions. According to this index, Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks no. 1, followed by Washington D.C.’s metro area; San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward; Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue; and San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara. Duluth, the no. 1 Fitbit city, didn’t crack the top 50 on this list.

What’s up with that? The American Fitness Index uses a completely different set of data to determine its rankings, including the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (aka the CDC) as well as data from the FBI (regarding crime rates) and other sources.

Men’s Fitness

Men’s Fitness magazine periodically publishes a list of the fittest and fattest U.S. cities, using data from the CDC and other sources. According to its conclusions, Portland is the U.S.’s fittest city, followed by San Francisco, Albuquerque, Oakland, Boston, Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Minneapolis and Honolulu.

The fattest city? Houston, followed by Detroit, Cleveland, Memphis, Tampa, Las Vegas, El Paso, Baltimore, Los Angeles (gasp!), and Louisville.

Netting it all out

The findings of such studies are always intriguing, especially to fitness buffs — many of whom, thanks to wearables, have become data geeks. And in some cases, the data can help spur change within communities. “Cities continuously use the data provided by the American Fitness Index report to make changes in their policies and urban planning,” as CNN reported following the 2015 ACSM American Fitness Index results.

Could Fitbit’s findings give users an incentive to step it up (or aim for more sleep)? Perhaps for some it will, but for most, probably not. But here’s an idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if Fitbit expanded its leaderboard to show which cities in the U.S. have the most steps every week? We could even have city-wide fitness challenges. It’s LA vs. NYC! Or, based on Fitbit’s findings, maybe it should be LA vs. Duluth, Minn.  

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