In a highly regarded statistical snapshot, a large organization of sports medicine and exercise science experts has crowned the Twin Cities region as the most physically fit in the nation.

This region "finished on top despite the challenges of being a Northern state with hard winters," the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) said in its announcement Monday of its 10th annual American Fit Index.

Washington, D.C., had been the most fit region for the past three years until the honor was wrestled away this time by the Twin Cities, last year's runner-up. Rounding out the top five: San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle-Tacoma and San Jose, Calif.

Mark Blegen, an exercise physiologist and associate dean at St. Catherine University's School of Health in St. Paul, said the index is to community health and well-being what the Oscars are to Hollywood.

In the index's 10 years, the Twin Cities and the nation's capital have been going head-to-head for the No. 1 spot, he said, and the rivals are sweating even harder in the battle for supremacy.

Blegen said he was on a conference call Tuesday morning to discuss the rankings with his counterpart in Washington, D.C.

"She said, 'This is all out war. We're going to take this back,' " Blegen said.

Blegen's response: " 'Bring it.' "

The ACSM, a worldwide group of 50,000, said the Twin Cities has many "areas of excellence" when it comes to staying fit. Among them: A high percentage of residents meet federal aerobic and strength activity guidelines (80.6 percent), get at least seven hours of sleep a day (70.6 percent) and live within a 10-minute walk to a park.

The ACSM also noted low percentages of Twin Cities residents have high blood pressure (25 percent), diabetes (7.1 percent) and don't often report feeling ill in the past 30 days (30.7 percent).

There is room for the region to improve, the group cautioned, pointing to too few residents eating three of more servings of vegetables a day (14.3 percent) and too many residents who smoke (14.8 percent).

The results were compiled by the ACSM along with the Indiana University School of Family Medicine and a panel of more than two dozen health and physical activity experts

Star Tribune staff writer Allie Shah contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482