Which percentage of American adults do not exercise on a regular basis? A. 40% B. 50% C. 55% D. 60%

50% of American adults do not exercise regularly.

Further explanation

Regular exercise is important to maintain a healthy body and mind. The recommended amount and intensity of physical activity varies according to ages and health condition. For an adult, the recommended time is 150 minutes per week for a moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes per week for vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of these two activities. You can break this into 25 minutes a day for 3 days a week.

Moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking, swimming for leisure, gardening, and doubles tennis. A moderate level of activity noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate.

Vigorous-intensity activities including running, jogging, hill walking, aerobic dance, lap swimming, and martial art. Vigorous exercise also known as a hard exercise is a physical activity that produces a higher heart rate and rapid breathing. Vigorous exercise offers greater cardiovascular benefits than moderate-intensity workouts.

Physical activity gives many benefits, such as improving cardiovascular fitness, helping with relaxation, and reducing tension and stress. To start your exercise regime, create a personal fitness program to suit your lifestyle and your current health condition.

Learn more

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Keywords: physical fitness, regular exercise, physical activity, physical pyramid

Less Than One-Quarter of Americans Are Getting Enough Exercise, CDC Study Finds

Fewer than one-quarter of U.S. adults are meeting the national guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. Those are the findings of a new National Health Statistics Report, published in June 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). While it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone is getting the amount of exercise they need, the data shows we definitely still have room for improvement.

“When it comes to physical activity during leisure time, we can do a lot better,” says Tainya Clarke, PhD, health statistician at the NCHS and a coauthor of the new report.

Researchers at the NCHS examined data from the National Health Interview Survey, a national survey conducted each year in person with participants from all 50 states, including Washington, DC. Participants were asked questions about how often, how long, and how vigorously during their leisure time they exercise.

The results showed that 22.9 percent of 32,942 individuals surveyed between 2010 and 2015, whose replies were analyzed for this research, reported meeting the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-training exercise during leisure time in the period. It’s important to note that was the national average. How well people across various states met those guidelines varied significantly when factors like where you live, gender, and current work status were considered.

For example, more than 27 percent of men across the United States met the national exercise guidelines through leisure-time physical activity compared to only 18.7 percent of women across the country. Percentages of adults meeting the exercise guidelines also varied across states, ranging from 13.5 percent of adults in Mississippi meeting the guidelines to 32.5 percent of adults in Colorado doing so.

The Good News Is That U.S. Adults Have Already Exceeded the Healthy People 2020 Exercise Goals

Given the fact that regular exercise can lower the risk of many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, as well as improve your mood and well-being, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set the current physical activity guidelines in 2008, which recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, in addition to muscle-strengthening exercises like lifting weights or using resistance bands two or more days per week.

In December, 2010, the HHS launched Healthy People 2020, a health-promotion and disease-prevention initiative that set 10-year goals and objectives for our nation to achieve. As part of that program, the goal was set to have 20.1 percent of adults meet the guidelines by the year 2020.

That means according to the new report, Americans are exceeding the Healthy People goal. But having only 22.9 percent of adults meeting exercise recommendations is still just the beginning, rather than the end, of our nation’s fitness story, says Dr. Clarke.

“Twenty percent is low,” Clarke says. The numbers right now mean that only 1 out of 5 people engage in enough exercise to be healthy, she says. “That’s never been a passing mark on any test I’ve ever taken.”

Surprisingly Data Reveals ‘Cold Weather’ States Get More Exercise

The new data also revealed a surprising detail to the researchers: Many of the states with the highest percentages of people meeting exercise guidelines were “cold weather” states, such as Minnesota and New Hampshire, which have harsh winter months of bitter cold and snow.

While this study wasn’t able to explore factors that might account for this unexpected finding, researchers say future research could provide valuable info on why these states are exercising more than others. They surmise that some “cold weather” states may have good public fitness centers.

Another possible explanation comes from the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) American Fitness Index, a ranking of the 100 largest cities in the United States based on health behaviors, health outcomes, local policies, and infrastructure that promote physical fitness and activity.

That data has consistently shown that cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Madison, Wisconsin, rank right up alongside places like San Jose, California, and Portland, Oregon, which have open spaces and warmer weather, allowing people to be more active outdoors, says Walter Thompson, PhD, past president of ACSM and associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

ACSM investigated why that was the case and found that rather than investing in outdoor pools or tracks, which would not be usable for much of the year, Minneapolis wisely opted to set up small fitness centers for its citizens, says Dr. Thompson — they’re either free or affordable.

Data Can Teach Us a Lot About What Makes Us Fit — and What’s Stopping Us From Getting There

As with all research, there are caveats that should be pointed out. The NCHS researchers note in the report that this study didn’t account for physical activity people may engage in while on the job or while commuting to work, says Clarke. Because the survey only collects information on leisure-time physical activity, this study was not able to look at things like occupational physical activity, says Clarke.

“We can’t account for physical activity on the job or biking, rollerblading, or walking to work,” she says. (That means the number of physically active adults meeting the current guidelines may actually be higher than what was reported.)

But even without that information, this study can still provide valuable insight into which states tend to have more active residents overall — and then looking at what factors might be behind those stories. By taking measures like building more public pools and indoor fitness centers, or taking other steps that more physically active states are doing, states that rank lower on this study can work to improve their physical fitness, Clarke explains. “States can use the study as a foundation.”

The bottom line is that Americans aren’t getting enough exercise, but we can all do something on a personal and community level to change things.

Thompson says he wasn’t surprised by the new CDC report’s finding that fewer than one-quarter of adults aren’t getting the recommended amount of exercise.

Health and fitness experts thought that the 2008 exercise recommendations to get 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity would make it easier for people to follow, especially since they could do it cumulatively over the course of a week, Thompson says. But no matter how many options people have, some will still likely be resistant to exercise, Thompson says. “People may think, I’m not going impact my leisure time with exercise.”

The key for anyone who’s not currently meeting the guidelines is to engage in activities they can keep up and build upon, rather than ones that will be discouraging or that you won’t be able to do on a regular basis, says Thompson. “It may take you a year to get up to the recommendation,” says Thompson.

He offers the following advice for individuals who currently do not meet the physical activity guidelines but would like to:

  • Find an exercise program that meets your needs and takes your current activity level into account. It’s crucial for any exercise program to be tailored for an individual, Thompson says. For instance, a sedentary person should start by walking rather than go right into running or engaging in high-intensity training, which can lead to injury, pain, and a reluctance to exercise.
  • Start with low-intensity activity and ramp up the intensity as you’re able. The goal is to ultimately increase both endurance and strength through physical activity.
  • Work in exercise whenever you can. Be active with your kids or your family when you have leisure time. Movie nights are great, but go for a bike ride or run around with a soccer ball beforehand. When watching TV, make commercial breaks exercise breaks — run in place, jump rope, or do burpees.

How Much Do Americans Really Exercise?

In Washington, we often take the crown for being one of fittest cities in the country. Whether you spot the many rowers on the Potomac every morning or catch a group of runners around the Mall, it seems like Washingtonians are always striving to be in tip-top shape.

But in reality, Americans overall really aren’t exercising as much as they think. On average, we spend only two hours per week being physically active, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Maryland, who analyzed recent data from the US Census Bureau. That’s just half of the four hours a week of physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says adults 18 to 64 should exercise moderately for two-and-a-half hours per week and engage in vigorous activity for an hour and 15 minutes. However, researchers found that adults only do 17 minutes of fitness activities per day. That’s two-and-a-half times less than teenagers.

Granted, adults may not have as much time as young folks to dedicate to exercising. Teenagers are more likely to be a part of a team sport, with basketball being the most popular choice. In comparison, researchers said team sports are “almost invisible” among older adults. “Only one in 60 people plays basketball on any given day,” researcher Geoffrey Godbey said in a statement.

Even more troubling, each day adults only work out four minutes more than seniors over 65. In fact, seniors are just as active as young adults when it comes to aerobics and cardio. In what activity do they stand equal? Bowling.

And overall, researchers found that walking is the most common physical activity among Americans, with 5 percent of Americans walking 53 minutes per day. The longest time spent doing some sort of activity is when fishing or hunting, neither of which exactly falls under the “vigorous exercise” category.

The results are a bit depressing, but the good news is that “two hours a week is almost three times higher than what was found in the first US national diary study, conducted in 1965,” Godbey said. Also, being lazy and “addicted to television and computers” aren’t our only reasons for lack of exercise, he adds: Our reliance on cars, an aging society, and expensive gear or gym memberships are also to blame. The final reason? Location. “Because of crime, some people are afraid to leave their homes to go out for a walk or run.”

The results will be published online in the Time Use in Australia and United States/Canada Bulletin this week.

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Do You Exercise More Than the Average American?

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Anyone who’s ever run on a treadmill knows the silent competition that often goes on between you and the person next to you. Or maybe you thrive on eeking out one more squat than a classmate at CrossFit or holding plank longer than anyone else in Pilates. Whatever your competitive drive, now you can see how you stack up compared to the rest of the nation when it comes to exercising.

Watch retailer Timex surveyed more than 1,000 people on their fitness habits. They found that at least 73 percent of Americans report working out one or more times per week. Twenty-nine percent spend between 30 minutes and an hour working out, whereas 18 percent spend between one and two hours a day exercising. That said, 27 percent admitted they don’t exercise regularly and 144 respondents said they never work out.

While some Americans squeeze in a workout during lunch and some are morning exercisers, most are afternoon or evening exercisers, with 48 percent reporting that they workout sometime after 9 a.m.

And Americans love their running (and why not? Check out 30 things we love about running!), with weight lifting and hiking coming in second and third place, respectively, as the most popular types of exercise.

Once they’re finished working out, it’s time to take a shower, natch. Forty-three percent of survey respondents spend 10 to 15 minutes in the shower, while 25 percent spend 20 to 30 minutes showering, and 10 percent spend more than half an hour (and to that 10 percent, we can’t help but wonder: Thirty-plus minutes? Really? What are you doing in the shower? There’s only one thing I can think of, and it doesn’t involve washing your hair, so…).

You can check out the full results of the survey here. Now tell us: Do you need to step up your fitness game? Tweet us @Shape_Magazine or let us know in the comments below!

  • By Alanna Nuñez

Have you gotten your fill of exercise this week? If you’re an adult living in the United States, a safe guess would be no.

A new government study estimates that nearly 80 percent of adult Americans do not get the recommended amounts of exercise each week, potentially setting themselves up for years of health problems.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed survey data collected from more than 450,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who were randomly phoned across all 50 states.

They were asked how often they engaged in aerobic physical activity outside of their jobs and for how long.

The U.S. government recommends adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of both. Adults should also engage in muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights or doing push-ups at least twice per week.

Get up! 6 ways to boost your health by sitting less

Physical inactivity can lead to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC, while exercise can help control weight, and reduce the risk for developing heart disease and some cancers, while providing mental health benefits.

A study last year linked physical inactivity to more than 5 million deaths worldwide per year, more than those caused by smoking.

The survey revealed that only 20.6 percent of people met the total recommended amounts of exercise — about 23 percent of all surveyed men and 18 percent of surveyed women. People most likely to exercise were between the ages of 18 and 24 (almost 31 percent of exercisers). Those least likely to engage in physical activity were ages 65 and older (nearly 16 percent of exercisers).

  • Working out before bedtime may mean better sleep
  • Walking 3 hours per week may lower women’s stroke risk
  • People who are more fit during middle age have less chronic illness in later years, study shows

Not all was bleak, the CDC said. About 52 percent of surveyed adults said they met only the aerobic activity guidelines while 29 percent met only the muscle-strengthening components.

“Although only 20 percent of adults are meeting the overall physical activity recommendations, it is encouraging that half the adults in the United States are meeting the aerobic guidelines and a third are meeting the muscle-strengthening recommendations,” Carmen D. Harris, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s physical activity and health branch, said in a statement. “This is a great foundation to build upon, but there is still much work to do.”

Overall, exercise rates were spread about evenly among racial and ethnic groups, with exercise prevalence a bit lower for Hispanic Americans than Non-Hispanic black or white Americans.

How much education the adult received also impacted exercise rates. More than 27 percent of the exercising adults were college graduates, while the lowest rates (12 percent) among those who had received less than a high school diploma.

The researchers also asked surveyed adults their height and weight to determine their body mass index (BMI), a measurement that determines if a person is underweight, normal weight or obese.

Exercise was less common in obese individuals (13.5 percent of exercisers) than for overweight (about 22 percent) and underweight/normal weight persons (roughly 26 percent).

Geographic differences also may play a role in whether an adult is likely to exercise. The fewest adults exercised in West Virginia and Tennessee (less than 13 percent of exercisers for each), and the most adults exercised in Colorado (more than 27 percent of exercisers).

Fattest and Thinnest U.S. States 51 photos

A recent poll from Gallup-Wellbeing Index found West Virginia had the fattest residents in the country with more than 33 percent of its population obese, while Colorado had the lowest obesity rate in the country at 18.7 percent of residents.

The report calls on local communities and workplaces to provide more opportunities for adults to exercise. One suggestion was partnering up with a local school to allow adults to use work out equipment after hours. Adding bike lanes and walking paths could also lead more adults to become active.

“Improving access to safe and convenient places where people can be physically active can help make the active choice the easy choice,”

The CDC currently funds obesity-fighting efforts in 25 states, according to the report.

“Opportunities exist in all states to increase the proportion of adults participating in aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities,” the CDC researchers wrote for the study, published May 2 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

This is why most Americans don’t exercise more

Six in 10 Americans say 2019 is their year to get in shape, according to new research.

But many barriers may prevent this, it turns out, as over two in five Americans feel “too old” to work out, with 41 officially being the age Americans feel too old to exercise.

The new survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of fitness app creator Freeletics, aimed to discover the biggest barriers Americans face when it comes to health and exercise.

Age, it turns out, is only one of multiple barriers to exercise Americans face, according to the study, but “not having time” took home the first-place crown with 42 percent saying that time is the biggest reason they fail to work out.

So with everyone becoming so busy, are modern work pressures also getting in the way of a fit and healthy life? According to the results, the answer is yes.

When asked about excuses they have used to justify skipping a workout, nearly one in four said they’ve employed “stayed too late at work” as an excuse, while a further 36 percent said having too much work to do was a reason they’ve skipped a workout before. Topping the list with 56 percent was being “too tired” to work out.

The survey results were revealed at a panel held in New York City as part of the Freeletics Dare to be Free campaign, which is the brand’s largest-ever global marketing campaign.

However, according to the results, it seems many Americans will use any old excuse to get out of a workout.

For example, nearly a third of Americans have skipped a workout because the weather is too bad, and another one in 10 have skipped a workout because the weather is too nice.

One in four (23 percent) have used eating too much to get out of a planned workout, and another 15 percent said they’d rather watch Netflix.

A lot of common excuses come down to convenience — still a big issue when it comes to exercise, and, according to the results, only 29 percent of Americans consider working out to be convenient.

Exercising can be tough to fit into a busy schedule, especially when the average American only has 89 minutes of free time a day, according to the survey results.

While the average American says they work out twice a week already, that number would jump to five times a week if it were more convenient and less expensive.

Not only that, the majority of respondents (69 percent) said that they believed regular exercise would help them quit their bad habits.

“In this study, we see a catch 22 situation,” said Daniel Sobhani, CEO of Freeletics. “69 percent of Americans believe regular exercise would help them quit their bad habits. However, because so many Americans are facing these common barriers to fitness, they can’t break out of the circle. Additionally, 46 percent feel that even their work has been a workout barrier, so this as an opportunity to push for positive change. It’s time fitness became more convenient. And this is exactly why we at Freeletics aim to eliminate all workout excuses.”

But is 2019 the year Americans will find their fitness freedom and get in shape on their terms?

When asked what it would take to get them exercising more, the top solutions were workouts to do at home (45 percent), cheaper alternatives to the gym (28 percent), classes with friends or colleagues (28 percent), and a personal trainer to be accountable to (27 percent).

“With Freeletics, we have been systematically providing people with these exact things they need to exercise more,” continued Sobhani. “The ability to have guided workouts wherever and whenever they want with a personal trainer in their pocket, and at less than the price of a fitness class per week. With our brand-new platform approach to fitness in our app – a type of Netflix for fitness – I am hopeful we will help more people discover just how simple and convenient regular exercise can really be.”

Top 10 reasons Americans more frequently

I don’t have time 42%
I don’t have the motivation 35%
I don’t like exercising 25%
Work gets in the way 23%
I feel too old 23%
I don’t see results 22%
Don’t have equipment at home 21%
It’s too expensive 20%
It’s inconvenient 19%
Gym is too far awa 18%

Top 10 reasons Americans skip planned workouts

Too tired 56%
Too much work to do 36%
It’s already late 30%
The weather is too bad 28%
Ate too much 23%
Stayed late at work 22%
Would rather watch Netflix 15%
It’s dark 12%
Bad traffic 12%
Workout buddy canceled 11%

How Americans would feel if they exercised regularly

More energetic 68%
More motivated 64%
Happier 59%
More focused 59%
Less stressed 57%
Less likely to fall ill 53%
Less tired 52%
More successful 48%
More outgoing 42%

This Is How Much Exercise the Average American Needs to Do to Lose Weight

Countless studies and articles will tell you what you already know: Eat less and exercise more to lose weight. Some of these exercise plans are meant to aid people in losing large amounts of weight or are crazy crash diets. But what about the average American who’s ready to commit to exercising the pounds away?

We’ve calculated how much you’ll need to exercise to lose those last 30, 10, even five pounds of stubborn weight while following a healthy diet (for the big reveal, see page 5).

The average American eats nearly 2,000 calories too many

You probably eat way more than you should. | Kzenon/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It should come as no surprise that Americans eat a lot more than we used to. The average American consumed 3,639 calories per day in 2016 according to Business Insider.

This is significantly more than necessary to maintain a healthy weight; according to the Pew Research Center, a 40-year-old man of average height and weight who’s moderately active needs 2,400 calories; a 40-year-old woman with corresponding characteristics needs 1,850 calories.

Next: We aren’t exercising enough either!

We exercise 30 minutes less than the daily recommendation

Do you think you get the recommended amount of exercise? | iStock.com/funduck

To remain healthy, a Mayo Clinic study found the average person needs to exercise 150 minutes a week.

A CDC study found that most Americans don’t even come close to meeting the requirements for healthy exercise. Only 20.6% of people met the recommended 150 minutes per week. According to the Washingtonian, “researchers found that adults only do 17 minutes of fitness activities per day,” which falls short of the healthy requirement by about 30 minutes per week.

Next: This info is crucial to understanding how you’ll lose the weight.

You can easily calculate how to lose weight

So how does all of this work? | iStock.com/StudioGrandQuest

To lose one pound of body weight, you’ll need to burn an extra 3,500 calories. The average American eats 3,639 calories per day, and therefore may need to burn more than the recommended 250 calories daily and cut more than the recommended deficit of 375 calories.

Use an online calculator to first estimate your daily calorie needs, then subtract 375 calories to total your daily calorie intake target number.

Next: These exercises are the key to success.

These are the best exercises for weight loss

A HIIT workout will show you results fast. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

  • Running, CrossFit, boxing, and HIIT workouts burn more calories than other forms of exercise.

There are plenty of ways for even novice exercisers to burn the extra 250 calories (on average) a day. Running for 20 minutes at 6 m.p.h. on a treadmill, for example, already burns 230. Combine cardiovascular efforts with strength training like weight lifting for optimal results.

For new and exciting classes that pack both strength training and cardio into 60 minutes or less, try CrossFit, boxing, or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Sixty minutes of CrossFit or 30 minutes of HIIT will burn, on average, 261 calories.

Next: This is how much exercise you’ll need to lose that pesky weight.

To lose weight, you need to do 150 minutes of cardio and strength training each week

Get to it! | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images Plus

If you’re looking to cut around one pound per week, keep a healthy exercise schedule in addition to cutting your calorie intake. Follow the recommendation to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, then tack on additional exercise that burns around 250 calories per day.

In addition to cardiovascular exercise, the CDC declared that healthy adults will engage in muscle-strengthening activities that work for all the major muscle groups at least two days a week.

Next: You’ll need these resources to help you keep the weight off.

You’ll be twice as likely to keep the weight off if you use a journal

Do your best to educate yourself. | iStock.com/DeanDrobot

Losing your goal weight is half the battle; keeping the weight off becomes the up-hill struggle. According to WebMD, only about a third of dieters and exercisers successfully maintain their weight loss.

Assign yourself a cheat day, journal your diet habits, and most importantly, continue to exercise regularly. Continuous exercise will increase your metabolism, improve your digestive health, and help you live an overall healthier life.

Next: The scary fact about Americans…

This is why American’s struggle with their weight

The average American weight is not decreasing. | Getty Images

Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, told CBS News how our modern-day society contributes to the obesity epidemic. “There are many active efforts to combat obesity, but our culture at large is in the business of propagating it for profit, from big food to big media to big pharma. It’s that simple. We do much more, across the expanse of our culture, to foster obesity than to defend against it,” Katz said.

According to a CDC National Center for Health Statistics report, the average weight of men in the U.S. rose from 181 pounds to 196 pounds from 1994 to 2014. The average woman expanded from 152 pounds to 169 pounds.

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Actually, you do have enough time to exercise, and here’s the data to prove it


(iStock)By Christopher IngrahamChristopher Ingraham Reporter covering all things data October 30, 2019

Americans as a rule don’t get enough exercise — fewer than 1 in 4 do, data show — and many contend that their schedules are simply too packed to fit it in. The explanation is so prevalent that such medical and public health institutions as the Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association address the “no time for exercise” hurdle in their outreach campaigns.

But the notion that we’re too busy to work out is nonsense, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, produced in coordination with researchers at the nonprofit Rand Corp. Americans, in fact, have plenty of free time: an average of five hours of it each day, according to their analysis of the American Time Use Survey, which collects detailed time-use diaries from thousands of people each year.

Instead of exercising, we’re giving over the bulk of our free time to mobile, PC and TV screens, data show.

Activity Average time per day, women Average time per day, men
Non-leisure 18 hours, 42 minutes 18 hours, 4 minutes
Screen time 2 hours, 55 minutes 3 hours, 31 minutes
Other leisure 2 hours, 9 minutes 2 hours, 1 minute
Exercise 14 minutes 24 minutes

“There is a general perception among the public and even public health professionals that a lack of leisure time is a major reason that Americans do not get enough physical activity,” Deborah Cohen, a Rand researcher and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “But we found no evidence for those beliefs.”

The American Time Use Survey asks participants — a large, nationally representative sample of Americans 15 and older — to jot down every activity they do over a 24-hour period. For the purposes of this study, Cohen and her colleague considered “leisure time” to be any time spent socializing with friends, watching television, browsing the Internet, participating in sports or other recreational activities, volunteering, praying or going to church, taking classes “for personal interest,” and general resting and relaxation.

Not included was working, caring for family members, cooking, cleaning, going to school for a degree, and self-care (sleeping, eating and grooming).

When you total all that leisure time, you end up with more than five hours a day, on average, for men and women. Just a fraction of that time — 24 minutes for men and 14 for women — is devoted to physical activity.

By contrast, both genders spent about three leisure hours a day in front of television, computer and phone screens.

Further undermining the no-time argument, the researchers found that many groups with lower-than-average free time — such as college graduates and people in the upper two-thirds of the income distribution — spent more time each day exercising.

The average college-educated man, for instance, reports having 90 fewer minutes of daily leisure time than the average man with less than a high school diploma. But the college graduate also spent 10 more of those minutes exercising each day relative to the guy without a GED.

“Substituting at least 20 to 30 minutes with physical activity does seem feasible and would not compromise necessary activities like work, household, family, or self-care (time in those activities is already excluded in our definition of free time),” the Rand authors write.

The health benefits of regular exercise are well documented — a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and other ailments, and improved overall well-being. To that end, according to federal guidelines, the typical adult would need to clock in at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity.

If time’s not a real barrier to exercise, what is? The study doesn’t dig into that question, but other explanations immediately spring to mind. After a full day of work and then several hours of cooking, cleaning and caring for kids, for instance, many working parents may simply not feel that they have the energy to add a workout to their daily schedules. Spending a few hours in front of the TV or computer after the kids go to bed may be the only activity for which they can muster the enthusiasm at the end of a long day.

Then there’s the unavoidable reality that most forms of physical activity cost not just time but also money — gym memberships, sneakers and clothes, a bike or a treadmill for the home. Families with limited financial resources may not be able to afford these amenities.

Lastly, the time-use numbers in this report are population-level averages, which can obscure the wide variety of experiences seen and lived at the individual level. People working multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads, or putting in punishing hours at one job, are not likely to have anywhere near the average amount of leisure time in a given day. And when time off does come, people in these circumstances are likely to prioritize rest and recuperation.

Still, the data show that many of us have room for exercise in our lives, if only we wanted to use it for that purpose.

Americans fall short of federal exercise recommendations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Americans spend, on average, only about two hours each week participating in sports and fitness activities, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Maryland who examined U.S. government data from the American Time Use Study.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 get about four hours of physical activity each week by exercising moderately for 2.5 hours per week and engaging in a vigorous activity, such as running and muscle strengthening, for an hour and fifteen minutes per week.

“The United States is the fattest country in the world,” said Geoffrey Godbey, professor emeritus of recreation, park and tourism management, Penn State. “The amount of exercise Americans get has become a major concern.”

The team, which also included John Robinson, professor of sociology, University of Maryland, analyzed ATUS data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent national diary study of more than 100,000 respondents of all ages across the country to examine the amount of time Americans’ spend on sports and fitness activities.

The results are reported in the 2011 edition of Time Use in Australia and United States/Canada Bulletin, which will appear online this week.

The researchers found that dedicated walking is the most prevalent activity, engaged in by about 5 percent of Americans on an average day for 53 minutes per walker. In terms of the more physically active team sports, the researchers found that basketball is the most popular, followed by football, soccer, baseball, volleyball and hockey.

“Baseball may be our national pastime and football our main spectator sport, but the daily time spent on basketball is higher than both of them combined,” said Robinson. “This is particularly true among teenagers, who spend about seven times more time than older adults playing basketball, as well as other team sports.”

In general, teenagers participated in fitness activities about 2.5 times as much as older adults aged 18-64 — 41 minutes per day versus 17 minutes for those 18-64 and 13 minutes for seniors over age 65.

“Among older adults, team sports are almost invisible in terms of daily time use, with only one in 500 people playing baseball or football, and one in 60 people playing basketball on a given day,” Godbey said.

Godbey suggested a number of reasons that might explain why Americans do not exercise as much as they should.

“First, we live in an automobile culture,” he said, noting that four out of every five miles Americans spend moving are in an automobile. “Second,” he said, “we are almost addicted to television and computers. Americans ages 18 to 64 average more than 35 hours of free time each week, but they spend half of it watching television. Third, our society is aging — 13 percent of us are 65 years old or older. Fourth, a lot of physical activities, such as hockey and tennis, can be expensive to participate in because of the gear and memberships they require. And finally, because of crime, some people are afraid to leave their homes to go out for a walk or a run.”

According to Robinson, even though two hours a week of exercise doesn’t seem like much, it’s significantly more than what people were getting in 1965.

“Today’s two hours a week is almost three times higher than what was found in the first U.S. national diary study conducted in 1965,” he said.

As in earlier diary surveys, men exercise about twice as much as women, but women are equal to men in the amount of time they spend walking, swimming, bowling and in directed fitness activities, like cardio, aerobics and hiking.

The researchers also compared the daily time Americans devote to team sports versus other fitness activities. They found that people spend an average of about two hours per day on team sports and less than an hour per day on other fitness activities, such as walking or running. The longest episodes — an average of close to four hours per day — are spent hunting and fishing.

Among seniors 65 or over, golf is the most prevalent fitness activity other than walking, but seniors are about as active as younger adults in many fitness activities, such as workouts, aerobics and cardiovascular exercise. Seniors also are equal to younger adults in the amount of time they spend bowling

The Maryland Population Research Center funded this ATUS analysis as part of a larger grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

  • Americans spend, on average, only about two hours each week participating in sports and fitness activities, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Maryland who examined U.S. government data from the American Time Use Study.

    IMAGE: iStockphoto

Why we should exercise – and why we don’t

Updated: August 26, 2019Published: September, 2008

If the benefits of physical activity are legion, so are the reasons for avoiding it. We’ve got suggestions for adding some to your day.

You already know that exercise is good for you. What you may not know is just how good — or exactly what qualifies as exercise. That’s what this issue of the Health Letter is all about. The notion that physical activity helps keep us healthy is very old news indeed. Hippocrates wrote about the dangers of too little activity (and too much food). Tai chi, an exercise system of graceful movements that originated in China, dates from the 12th century B.C. Yoga’s roots in India go back much further.

But old ideas aren’t necessarily good ones, or have much evidence to back them up. This isn’t a problem for exercise — or physical activity, the term many researchers prefer because it’s more of a catchall. A deluge of studies have documented its health benefits. Many are observational, which always pose the problem of showing associations (people who exercise happen to be healthy) not proof of cause and effect (it’s the exercise that makes those people healthy). But after statistical adjustments, these studies suggest that the connection between exercise and health is more than just an association. Besides, results from randomized clinical trials, which are usually seen as making the case for causality, also point to exercise making people healthier.

What’s impressive about this research, aside from the sheer volume, is the number of conditions exercise seems to prevent, ameliorate, or delay.

We’re used to hearing about exercise fending off heart attacks. The American Heart Association promulgated the country’s first set of exercise guidelines in 1972. And it’s not hard to envision why exercise helps the heart. If you’re physically active, your heart gets trained to beat slower and stronger, so it needs less oxygen to function well; your arteries get springier, so they push your blood along better; and your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol go up.

It’s also not much of a surprise that physical activity helps prevent diabetes. Muscles that are used to working stay more receptive to insulin, the hormone that ushers blood sugar into cells, so in fit individuals blood sugar levels aren’t as likely to creep up.

But exercise as a soldier in the war against cancer? It seems to be, and on several fronts: breast, colon, endometrial, perhaps ovarian. The effect of physical activity on breast cancer prevention may be stronger after menopause than before, although some research suggests that it takes quite a lot to make a difference: four to seven hours of moderate to vigorous activity a week. Three studies have found that if you’ve had colon cancer or breast cancer, physical activity reduces the chances of it coming back.

To top things off, moving the body seems to help the brain. Several studies have found that exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression, and it changes the brain in ways similar to antidepressant medications. In old age, physical activity may delay the slide of cognitive decline into dementia, and even once that process has started, exercise can improve certain aspects of thinking.

Easy to avoid

We have to eat, so following nutritional advice is a matter of making choices. Swap out saturated fats for healthy oils. Eat whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates.

But in this day and age, many (perhaps most) people don’t need to be physically active unless they choose to be. And most evidence suggests that the choice of the kind of activity is far less important than whether to be active at all. About half of adult Americans don’t meet one of the most oft-cited guidelines, which calls for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (a fast walking pace) most days of the week — and you can accumulate that total in bouts of 10 to 15 minutes. About a quarter of American adults say they devote none of their free time to active pursuits.

Clearly some of us are less athletic than others — and some unathletic individuals were simply born that way. Twin studies suggest that about half of the difference in physical activity among people is probably inherited. And researchers are making headway in identifying particular genes that may influence how we respond to physical exertion. For example, they’ve identified some of the genes responsible for variation in the beta-agonist receptors in the lungs. How your lungs and heart react to strenuous exercise depends, in part, on those receptors.

But genetic explanations for behaviors like exercising only go so far. Many other influences come into play: family, neighborhood, cultural attitudes, historical circumstances. Research has shown, not surprisingly, that active children are more likely to have parents who encouraged them to be that way. Perceptions of how active parents are also seem to matter. The safety and layout of neighborhoods is a factor, particularly for children. In a dangerous place, having children stay home and watch television instead of going to the park to play might be the healthier choice simply because it’s safer.

The trip of a thousand miles begins…

In addition to getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week we should also resistance training to build up muscle strength twice a week. But some exercise, even if it is pretty minimal, is better than none, particularly among people who are very sedentary.

So in that spirit, we’ve made 27 suggestions for ways to become a little bit more physically active.

1. Take the far away spot. Walking from the farthest corner of the parking lot will burn a few calories. If it’s a parking garage, head for the roof and use the stairs.

2. Walk to the next stop. If you take a bus or train, don’t wait at the nearest stop. Walk to the next one. Or, at the end of your journey, get off a stop early and finish up on foot.

3. Hang loose. During your bus or train trip, stand and don’t hold on too tightly. You’ll improve your sense of balance and build up your “core” back and abdominal muscles.

4. Get into the swing of it. Swinging your arms when you walk will help you reach the brisk pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour that is the most healthful.

5. Walk and talk. If you are a member of a book group, propose 15 to 20 minutes of peripatetic discussion of the book before you sit down and chat.

6. Walk while you watch. Soccer moms, dads, and grandparents can circle the field several times during a game and not miss a single play.

7. Walk tall. Maintaining good posture — chest out, shoulders square but relaxed, stomach in — will help keep your back and abdominal muscles in shape. Besides, you’ll just look a whole lot healthier if you don’t slouch (mom was right).

8. Adopt someone as your walking, jogging, or biking buddy. Adding a social element to exercise helps many people stick with it.

9. That buddy might have four legs. Several studies have shown that dog owners get more exercise than the canine-less.

10. Be part of the fun. Adults shouldn’t miss a chance to jump into the fray if kids are playing on a playground or splashing around in the water. Climbing on the jungle gym (be careful!) and swinging on a swing will strengthen muscles and bones and set a good example.

11. Dine al fresco. Tired of eating at home? Skip the restaurant meal, which tends to be heavy on the calories. Pack a picnic. You’ll burn calories looking for the best spot and carrying the picnic basket.

12. Put on your dancing shoes. Exercise doesn’t have to be done in a straight line. Dancing can get your heart going and helps with balance. Dance classes tend to have lower dropout rates than gyms. Or just turn up the volume at home and boogie.

13. Wash and dry the dishes by hand. The drying alone is a mini-workout for the arms.

14. Don’t use an electric can opener. It’s good for your hand, wrist, and arm muscles to use a traditional opener. For the same reason, peel and chop your own vegetables and avoid the precut versions.

15. Clean house. Even if you have a cleaning service, you can take responsibility for vacuuming a couple of rooms yourself. Fifteen minutes burns around 80 calories. Wash some windows and do some dusting and you’ve got a pretty decent workout — and a cleaner house.

16. Hide that remote. Channel surfing can add hours to screen time. If you have to get up to change the channel, you are more likely to turn it off and maybe do something else that’s less sedentary.

17. Go swimmingly somewhere. Swimming is great exercise if you have arthritis because the water supports your weight, taking the load off of joints. The humid air around a pool sometimes makes breathing more comfortable for people with lung problems.

18. Take a walk on the waterside. Even people who can’t, or don’t like to, swim can get a good workout by walking through the water. Try walking fast, and you’ll get cardiovascular benefits. Walking in water is a great way to rehabilitate if you’re recovering from an injury and certain types of surgery because the water acts as a spotter, holding you up.

19. Don’t e-mail. In the office, get out of your chair, walk down the hallway, and talk to the person. At home, write an old-fashioned letter and walk to a mailbox — and not the nearest one — to mail it.

20. Stand up when you’re on the phone. Breaking up long periods of sitting has metabolic benefits. Even standing for a minute or two can help.

21. Grow a garden. No matter how green the thumb, the digging, the planting, the weeding, and the picking will ramp up your activity level and exercise sundry muscles.

22. Use a push mower. Even if you have a large lawn, pick a small part of it to mow in the old-fashioned way. You get a nice workout, you’re not burning any gas, and it’s usually quieter. The same reasoning favors the rake over the leaf blower.

23. Think small. Small bouts of activity are better than knocking yourself out with a workout that will be hard to replicate.

24. Be a stair master. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever you can. It’s good for your legs and knees, and your cardiovascular health will benefit from the little bit of huffing and puffing. Don’t overdo. One flight at a time.

25. Stairs tip #2. You’ll give the gluteal muscles a nice little workout if you can climb up two stairs at a time.

26. Stairs tip #3. You can give your calf muscles a nice little stretch by putting the ball of the foot on the stair and lowering your heel.

Disclaimer:
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) late this year released its new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, calling for adults between the ages of 18 and 64 to exercise moderately (such as brisk walking or water aerobics) for at least two hours and 30 minutes or vigorously (running, swimming, or cycling 10 mph or faster) for at least an hour and 15 minutes weekly.
The longer, harder and more often you exercise, the greater the health benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, according to the recommendations, which were based on a decade of scientific research.
Studies have shown that people who engage in the amount of exercise recommended by the feds live an average of three to seven years longer than couch potatoes, according to William Haskell, a medical professor at Stanford University who chaired the HHS advisory committee. But how exactly does exercise accomplish this? And what about claims by naysayers that exercise not only isn’t healthy but may actually be bad for you? Is there any truth to them?
Good for the heart and blood vessels
In the past decade or so, various studies involving thousands of participants have shown that workouts lower the risk of heart disease. “Exercise has a favorable effect on virtually all risk factors of cardiovascular disease,” says Jonathan Meyers, a health research scientist at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health System in California. The reason, he says: when a person exercises, the heart muscle contracts forcefully and frequently, increasing blood flow through the arteries. This leads to subtle changes in the autonomic nervous system, which controls the contraction and relaxation of these vessels. This fine-tuning leads to a lower resting heart rate (fewer beats to pump blood through the body), lower blood pressure and a more variable heart rate, all factors that lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, he says.
Meyers says that exercise also limits inflammation associated with heart trouble, such as arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries around the heart, which may lead to heart attacks. Many recent studies have focused on C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Meyers says that research showed that sedentary folks who embarked on three- to six-month exercise programs, on average, experienced a 30 percent dip in their C-reactive protein levels – about the same drop as someone given a statin (a cholesterol and inflammation-lowering drug). In other words, in many people, exercise might be as effective as an Rx in tamping down inflammation, one of the key risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Exercise also boosts cardiovascular health by decreasing the amount of plasma triglycerides—fatty molecules in the blood that are associated with plaque build-up in the arteries— notes Haskell. What’s more, he adds, physical activity helps reduce the particle size of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or so-called bad cholesterol in the blood, and increase amounts of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), aka good cholesterol, which translates to less artery clogging.

But exercise may not have the same effect on every person’s cardiovascular system, notes Arthur Leon, chief cardiologist at the University of Minnesota’s Heart Disease Prevention Clinic in Minneapolis. “On average, there is a response but there is great variability, and that variability runs in families,” he says. Take, for example, HDL cholesterol. Most broad studies show physical exercise leads to up to a 5 percent increase in HDL levels, but a closer examination shows that the percentages vary from zero to 25 percent, depending on the study subject, he says, noting that only about half of the population seem to experience HDL increases as a result of exercise.
Less cancer
Several studies (including the ongoing federal National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) following thousands subjects for several years, show that regular exercise lowers the risk for certain cancers, particularly breast and colon cancer, says Demetrius Albanes, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. Scientists have yet to pinpoint the mechanisms involved but have come up with several plausible explanations.
“Physical activity beneficially affects body weight,” says Albanes, noting that leaner people have lower circulating levels of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps cells absorb glucose, their primary energy source. Obese and overweight people, are more likely to develop insulin resistance, a condition in which the cells no longer respond to the hormone and absorb glucose. When this happens, the pancreas produces greater amounts to compensate, flooding the bloodstream with insulin; high levels of insulin in the blood have been linked to cancer. “Insulin is essentially a growth hormone,” Albanes says. “Insulin could create new tumors by increasing rates of cell division, or it could just make small tumors grow.”
Albanes says that exercise may also ward off cancer and other diseases because it appears to beef up the body’s immune system. Exercise may also help reduce levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone in the blood, potentially also lowering the risk of developing breast and uterine cancers linked to high levels of those hormones.
Despite the apparent link between physical exercise and lower odds of cancer, Albanes acknowledges that there could be other factors at work. ” most of these studies are not controlled trials, it could be some other lifestyle factor , ” he says, noting that people who exercise may also eat healthier diets.
Builds strong bones
Robert Recker, an endocrinologist and current president of the National Osteoporosis Foundation in Washington, D.C., says research indicates that moderate exercise increases and maintains bone mass and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. “The most compelling evidence,” he says, “is that if you don’t do anything, your fracture risk is much greater.”
Like muscles, bones become stronger when forced to bear more weight than normal. “The skeleton is a smart structural organ and knows how much load is being put on it,” Recker says. “Pick up a pail of water, and you’re loading your arm, your shoulder, your spine, your legs and your hips.” That means muscles are contracting, exerting forces on the bones supporting those body parts. This force stimulates the bone to maintain or even build new tissue. But scientists have yet to figure out why. “That’s a focus,” he says, “of incredibly aggressive research.”

Recker says that researchers speculate, however, that it has to do with exercise triggering osteocytes (the most mature bone cells) to instruct bone-building cells called osteoblasts to increase bone formation.
Wards off diabetes
According to Gerald Shulman, a cellular and molecular physiologist at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., exercising may prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes type 2 is a disease in which the body begins to ignore or fails to produce enough insulin (a condition called insulin resistance). If muscles and other tissues cannot absorb glucose from the blood, nerve and blood vessel damage ensues, paving the way for heart disease, stroke and infections.
“We’ve shown that in insulin-resistant individuals… build up of fat leads to biochemical reactions that interfere with the glucose-transport mechanism ,” Shulman says. But physical activity helps reverse this process. He notes that when someone runs, cycles or does other vigorous exercise, muscle contractions ramp up production of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme that promotes the breakdown of the fats interfering with the cells’ glucose transporters.
“It is very likely that there are differences in the extent to which individuals respond to exercise, just as there are in responses to medications,” says Ronald Sigal, a clinical epidemiologist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute in Canada. Leon agrees, pointing to research demonstrating that exercise leads to varying decreases on visceral body fat (the fat surrounding organs), one of the key risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.
Makes you smarter
Researchers have long believed that exercise boosts smarts but there was not any hard scientific evidence until a few years ago. Now, says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a neurosurgery professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, it’s known that exercise increases levels of some molecules in the brain that are very important for cognition.
One such chemical is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a molecule that promotes the growth and survival of brain cells as well as communication between them. Studies in rats show that physical exercise boosts BDNF levels in the hippocampus, a brain structure critical for learning and memory formation, which in turn helps them remember how to navigate their way through underwater mazes. “The more exercise, the more changes in the brain; we found almost a linear relationship,” Gomez-Pinilla says. “If we block the BDNF gene, we block this capacity of exercise to help learning and memory.”
Numerous studies suggest that fitness enhances cognition in humans as well. A randomized clinical trial published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people 50 years and older with memory problems scored higher on cognitive tests after a six-month workout regimen. Those study participants assigned to exercise programs scored 20 percent higher than their sedentary peers at the end of the six months, and maintained a 10 percent edge one year after the trial ended.
But skeptics warn that not enough research has been done to confirm a link between exercise and human brain power. A recent review of studies on cognition in older adults (primarily those age 65 and older) by Dutch scientists published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine concluded that “beneficial effects of various exercise programs on aspects of cognition have been observed in studies among subjects with and without cognitive decline. The majority of the studies, however, did not find any effect.”
Weight Loss
The relationship between exercise and weight loss is complicated. Contrary to popular belief, working out at the gym every day will not necessarily lead to weight loss. “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures,” write the authors of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2007 guidelines. “So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.”

“Increasing physical activity—if people control caloric intake—will lead to weight loss,” says William Haskell of Stanford University who helped craft the HHS, ACSM and AHA guidelines. But he cautions that exercise alone is unlikely to lead to the instant results most people want, leading them to become frustrated and give up. ” 30 minutes of brisk walking five days per week,” says Haskell. “If you say walking a mile expends 100 calories, and if I walk at 3 miles per hour, I burn an extra 150 calories per day,” he says. “, it could take three weeks to lose one pound. For most people, they are going to find this disappointing, probably won’t stick with it.”
So for the average person, caloric intake—rather than calorie burning from exercise—appears to be the most important factor in weight loss. But even if calorie intake trumps exercise, this does not mean exercise does not play a key role in helping people stay trim.
“If you talk about energy balance , definitely there is evidence that exercise contributes to energy balance,” says David Stensel, an exercise physiologist at the School of Sport & Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England. A study published this month by Stensel’s team suggests that vigorous exercise suppresses the key hunger hormone, ghrelin, for up to 30 minutes after workouts and increases levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone peptide YY for as long as three hours after exercise.
Stensel also points to studies showing that exercising may encourage people to crave healthier fare, such as unrefined foods (like fiber-rich beans and veggies) rather than foods loaded with refined sugar (such as cookies and cakes).
Some past researchers claimed that exercise would lead to weight gain in the long run because it ups one’s appetite. But Arthur Leon of the University of Minnesota says that theory has been shot down over the past decade. Some research suggests that it might lead to greater caloric intake, Stensel notes, but that does not necessarily translate into extra pounds. The increased calories, he says, are not enough to offset the calories burned—or energy consumed—during exercising.
The bottom line: couch potatoes may applaud the exercise naysayers but the bulk of research suggests that workouts make us physically and perhaps mentally healthier.

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