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Study ranks Roanoke at bottom of list of top exercising communities

Lynchburg fared better in the rankings

ROANOKE, Va. – A newly released exercise rankings study by Galop-Sharecare puts Roanoke at the bottom of a list of the top exercising communities in 2015-16. 

The study, conducted through phone surveys, had people throughout our community answering one basic question: In the last seven days, how many days did you exercise for 30 or more minutes? Only 47.5 percent of people in the Roanoke area say they exercise regularly, according to the report.

Compare that with top ranking cities, like Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado, where nearly 70 percent of people exercise regularly each week. 

Of the five Virginia cities that were ranked in the survey, including Lynchburg and Bristol, Roanoke ranks the lowest when it comes to regular exercise. Lynchburg ranked highest, at number 18, with nearly 59 percent of people saying they work out regularly. Charlottesville, Bristol and Richmond also have exercise rates of more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, Roanoke ranked ninth from last.

The Roanoke numbers came as a surprise to some, like Whitney Slightham, the marketing and research coordinator for Roanoke City Parks and Recreation. She says their numbers over the last year tell a very different story.

Slightham says she's seen local exercise programs taking off, with more than 4,500 people taking part in city athletic programs, like joining soccer or kickball leagues. More than 2,500 people signed up for the fitness programs and workout classes hosted by the city in 2016. 

There's also a push for more outdoor programs, like guided hikes or mountain bike trails, as people throughout the Roanoke Valley work to find the exercise method that best works for them. 

"The key is to find an activity that is just fun, so you don't really feel like you're working out," says Slightham. "We try to find innovative ways to introduce people to fitness programs. Instead of a typical yoga class, we're going to offer a glow-in-the-dark yoga class."

While mixing it up and trying new programs can be fun, Slightham says some of the age-old exercise standbys like running and walking continue to see the biggest uptick. Last year, more than half a million people used the 22 miles of greenway that stretches throughout the region. 

Carilion conducts a similar study to the Gallop-Sharecare report every few years. It's part of the ongoing community health assessment. Aaron Boush, community outreach and development manager, says the numbers from Carilion's most recent research shows a very different picture of the Roanoke Valley.

Instead of the few hundred people that were surveyed by phone for the national study, Carilion's Study is made up of more than 2,000 responses, through surveys, focus groups, and direct community engagement. Their 2015 research finds regular exercise on the Roanoke Valley is about 10 percent higher than the national study found. 

Carilion is also zeroing in on some of the factors that could prevent people from getting the exercise they need. 

"The physical environment, does your neighborhood have healthy opportunities, are there sidewalks, are there parks and gyms in the community? Then we also look at social connectedness and economic health," explains Boush. "Those are some of the root causes of what causes unhealthy behaviors or physical inactivity."

In an effort to address that inactivity, Carilion has created Fit-RX, a customized exercise program that can help people kickstart their workout efforts, based on individual needs prescribed by their doctors.   

Carilion is also working to expand other community workout programs, like the six-week Carilion Wellness Program, which focuses on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. 

"We look at the needs in the community, but then we want to find out what we can come up with, what kind of programs we can come up with to meet those needs and meet people where they are," said Edie Naughton, an RN Health Educator for Carilion. 

She says meeting people where they are is key, and the best way to encourage regular exercise.