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Yo-Yo Dynamics

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

February 5,2006

It's February- one month into 2006, and a good time to check in. Are you thirty-two days loyal to your resolutions? Or are you thirteen days, eight hours, and forty-three minutes away from receiving your Valentine's Day chocolates? Are you three pounds lighter, or three times busier? Are you running regularly, or regularly running late? Have you cleaned out your closet or your pantry? According to the annual U.S. city survey in Men's Health magazine, Charlotte is on a bit of a yo-yo diet.

Granted, assessment of the relative fitness levels of the fifty largest cities in America is a bit arbitrary. But the survey process at Men's Health is thorough. Fourteen separate categories, with several sub-categories, were devised and defined as factors influencing fitness. They were selected and identified as detriments, risks or aids. And the results, if debatable, are conversation starters at the least.

The factors Men's Health researchers considered for city evaluation were gyms/sporting goods stores (number of locations per 100,000 people), nutrition (health food stores per 100,000 as well as average fruit consumption per person per day), exercise/participation in sports, percentage of overweight people/people with sedentary lifestyles, prevalence of junk food havens (pizza places, ice cream stores), prevalence of alcohol (bars and estimated consumption), television use, air quality, climate, geography, commute time, parks/open space, recreation facilities, and healthcare. Through a complex process of gathering data, assigning numerical values, converting those values to letter grades, and incorporating other statistically significant variables, the verdict was reached. Of the fifty largest cities in the U.S., Charlotte ranks number twenty four – on the plump side of the list. We are number twenty-four of the twenty-five fattest U.S. cities.

To put that in perspective, we were number twenty two last year...on the FIT side of the list. And one year prior, we were back on the dark side. So why the back-and-forth?

Maybe a city-wide increase in comfort food consumption when the Panthers lose?

A simple Internet search for Charlotte-area gyms will yield 100 possibilities in less than two seconds. Nutrition stores are not much harder to find. Our climate is certainly conducive to outdoor activity (the survey considers the number of days with temperatures above thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and below ninety degrees Fahrenheit as positive fitness factors), and we have many parks, two lakes, and countless running and walking trails scattered around the city.

So if nice weather, plentiful gyms and general nutrition stores help keep our energy and our fitness levels up, what factors exist that pull them back down?

Men's Health believes that the length of time the average commuter sits in traffic and the level of fitness at which they operate are inversely related. So, if the thought of driving to work tomorrow makes you feel a little low, you're a statistical norm. Charlotte's highways are growing infamous, and we have yet to establish a truly efficient system of mass transit.

The stress of stop-and-go, slamming breaks and stupid jerks is not the only way in which our morning automotive typhoons detract from our over all health as a city. A lot of cars cause a lot of emissions. A mild climate is lovely for exercise, unless Ozone warnings prevent outdoor activity. Charlotte has spent her fair share of days in the yellow and orange, and we residents have spent our fair share of days in the air conditioning.

How do we pass the time indoors? My guess is watching TV or surfing the net. In another survey, Charlotte scored very highly, as one of the country's "most wired" cities. Though Yahoo may award that status in a favorable light, Men's Health might disagree. The more TV, the lower the fitness score.

Although Charlotte has yet to be truly "typed" as a city, that is, given a unique "identity," it is clearly a city with a lot of young adults and young families. So...what's our excuse?! A young demographic should increase a fitness score, shouldn't it? But we still need to keep up with the technological trends. And we still need to get to work. And, of course, we still need to watch American Idol. A line must be drawn. Do we have to do everything in excess? Get up, get out and get movin', kids!

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