Published by swtimes.com on March 19, 2020
Written by John Lovett

Fort Smith’s work over the past several years to provide more outdoor exercise space like the Greg Smith Riverfront Trail, as well as businesses that promote health and fitness for their employees, has led to a rare ranking as the “Fittest City in Arkansas.”

Insurify, an insurance quotes comparison site, on Wednesday recognized Fort Smith and other communities across the nation that “demonstrate exceptional dedication to the health and fitness of their residents” with the award.

While it may seem misplaced because of the other rankings Fort Smith has received in the past which were associated with heart disease and strokes, it goes to show that the efforts of groups like Friends of Recreational Trails (FORT), Mercy Fort Smith, Baptist Health, the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, the City of Fort Smith and the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District have not gone unnoticed.

Alexandra Conza, a data scientist and writer for Insurify, confirms that the quality and availability of public green spaces like trails and parks were a “significant determining factor” in identifying the fittest city in each state.

“Fort Smith has done a truly commendable job on this front,” Conza writes. “Congrats to Fort Smith on the efforts it has put into improving the quality of life for those who live there. It looks like it’s paying off!”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity improves mental health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Regular exercise also increases longevity and even improves productivity in the workforce, a news release from Inusurify notes.

Elizabeth McClain, Ph.D., vice provost and vice president of Academic Affairs for Arkansas Colleges of Health Education in Fort Smith, said outdoor recreation opportunities around Fort Smith was one of the factors that drew her and her husband, Dr. Rance McClain, from Hattiesburg, Miss., last year. Rance McClain is the dean of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“One of the things that drew my husband and myself to Fort Smith was all of the opportunities to spend outdoors getting physically fit,” Elizabeth McClain wrote in an email. “As an avid runner I have been thrilled to discover trails in Chaffee Crossing, the river trail downtown, Lake Fort Smith and the beautiful parks in our city. There are multiple opportunities in Fort Smith, whether walking, running, using biking trails, utilizing the dog parks or community parks where we can take time for ourselves, a few moments in our busy schedules for mindful physical and psychological wellness.”

She went on to explain that the medical college students who are not from this area are also falling in love with the community and the Arkansas weather that makes it possible to be outside almost year-round.

“We know there is a direct correlation to exercise and an active body and healthy mental wellness,” Elizabeth McClain added. “Congratulations to Fort Smith, and may we all strive to define and promote wellness in health and fitness.”

The presence and accessibility of public parks, nature reserves and other green spaces in communities are indispensable for the health and well-being of their citizens, Insurify states.

In light of warmer weather being right around the corner, Insurify’s data scientists wanted to take the opportunity to recognize the cities and communities across America that have demonstrated “exceptional dedication to their residents’ fitness and well-being.”

The analysis looks at the creation and maintenance of publicly accessible recreation areas, parks and other green spaces. Insurify explains they also took a look at the work of residents in careers relating to healthy eating choices and fitness.

Selection process

Referring to their database of over 2 million insurance applications, Insurify’s data scientists identified cities with the highest proportion of residents in careers that demand significant physical activity, or those that promote health and fitness (from park rangers, fitness club managers and dieticians to dancers and choreographers).

Then, they compiled data from Niche on the cities with the highest ranking for outdoor activities, which were ranked based on several factors, including the rate of adults reporting leisure-time physical activity, and access to recreational goods rentals. Cities with the highest proportion of residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park were also identified, using data from the Trust for Public Land Index.

Gyms and other health centers were excluded from the study. While they are a valuable source of exercise for some, Insurify notes, they can be “unaffordable to lower-income citizens.” Moreover, significantly less than half of those with a gym membership exercise regularly, the news release adds.