WINTER SUNDAY MORNINGS on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton are a blur of polypropylene and spandex. Legions of runners in fluorescent moisture-wicking fabrics labor up the hills; squadrons of cyclists in jerseys with exotic logos hurtle down them. While much of America is still in bed, this is rush hour in fitness-crazy Boston. “It’s cult-like,” says Adam Naylor, a sports psychologist and director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center. “If you step back, you would think this is a little insane.”
We not only run and bike, but row, swim, ski, lift, climb, blade, walk, spin, and play at levels that make the rest of the country look sluggish. Our cars are plastered with “26.2” and “13.1” stickers — and we know what they mean. When schools in other places need to raise money, they have a bake sale; around here, we hold a 5K.
One in four of us belongs to a health club, the highest membership level in America. Our public-access rowing club, Community Rowing Inc., is the largest in the world. Our state is the 14th biggest by population, but a 2009 study found it’s fifth in the number of residents who finish marathons each year.
This area’s relative affluence and high levels of education account for some of this, of course. “The educated wealthy are going to exercise more,” says Amy Baltzell, coordinator of the sport psychology specialty at BU’s School of Education and a former Olympic rower and America’s Cup sailor. “They understand that it’s important for their health and well-being. And we have a city filled with intense high achievers.”
But somewhere along the line in Boston, fitness has become a virtuous cycle. After all, when an unending parade of runners is passing just outside your window, it’s tough to stay planted on the couch clutching a bag of Doritos and a greasy remote control.
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