The Strategic Retreat

Portland is not the “fittest city in America”

cross country skiing on alberta street

Two days ago Men’s Fitness named Portland the fittest city in America. Although that’s what they printed, that’s not something that’s true. Much like when The Economist named Singapore the world’s most expensive city it’s a problem of shoehorning data into a classification they’ve done a poor job of defining. Unlike The Economist, which did a fairly good job of showing what city is the most expensive for snooty foreigners, Men’s Health just threw a bunch of crap against a wall and decided Portland sounded like a good enough answer. They didn’t show their work for their “15 point proprietary formula” as that would make the subterfuge way too obvious but they did give enough information to show how they are clearly not measuring ‘fitness’.

cruising on a bike in downtown portland

If you read the article, which I don’t recommend as it’s spread out over 6 unnecessary pages, there ares some clues that it’s full of crap starting on page one. Although they’re vague about their criteria they do list; “air quality, pedestrian and bike friendliness, obesity rates, general well being, and other factors”. Out of those I would give a thumbs up to one, a tilted thumb to another and a puzzled look to the rest. Obesity; definitely related to fitness. Air quality, sure, that can be important if measured and judged in a way proven to impact long term heath and is sufficiently different from other cities being measured. Those both seem reasonable, if they’re measured and weighted correctly. But then we get to “general well being”. Like happiness and fulfillment in life? Yeah, that’s important but it sure as hell isn’t fitness. “Pedestrian and bike friendliness” are important factors correlating to whether people can easily bike or walk but aren’t barometers of fitness in themselves. So, 2 legit categories, 2 non-related categories and 11 undisclosed.

weird portlander in chinatown on bike

Portland has a lot going for it in terms of fitness; low rate of smokers and a high percentage of active people are both directly related to fitness. None of that changes the fact that 1/4th of its residents are obese. None of that even balances it out. Having 5% more of the population getting 30 minutes of exercise a week than Fort Collins doesn’t compensate for having twice the obesity rate. From reading the article it’s clear that they’re using gym density, miles of hiking trails, number of farmer’s markets, bike culture and park acreage; all things not related to how fit a person or population actually is.

Man smoking with bike at pioneer square in portland

It’s like this; if my family is obese and yours isn’t, all other things being equal, you have the fitter family. This is true even if I have a swimming pool in my backyard, an exercise bike gathering dust in the basement, a membership to a CSA and I live next to a park. Having nice stuff and the tools to exercise doesn’t make my family more fit than yours. This is no different than when comparing cities. Having the means to be fit doesn’t make your city fitter. There may be a correlation but if you lose in the actual fitness category it’s insane to point to the stuff that’s supposed to make you fit to claim you’re actually fit. Portland is a fat guy who bought a membership to the gym and never used it. Having that gym card in Portland’s pocket doesn’t change reality and magazines shouldn’t go around enabling that sort of delusion when they claim to encourage healthy behavior.

pedalcab on alberta street

Portland may be the best city to move to if you’re into fitness and want to maintain a fit lifestyle. I’m not arguing against that, that seems relatively close to what the data they gathered supports. They clearly took data that showed one thing and then changed the label to pretend it showed something else, something not supported by the criteria they originally chose or the data they collected. The fattest city in the top 10 shouldn’t be declared the “fittest” just because it has a lot of parks and local berries. Parks don’t trump actual fitness in a fitness contest. Men’s Fitness decided to crown the winner of a street race based on which car had the coolest paint job, not who actually won.

steampunk bike on alberta

Also, it appears I have taken a grip of pictures of Portlander’s on bikes. I kind of wish the Men’s Fitness article wasn’t so obviously false so I could write more and share more bike pictures.

About Jeff

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA, a CSM, and a penchant for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.