Less than a quarter of Americans meet the national physical activity guidelines, according to findings (pdf) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) published June 28.

Regular exercise helps lower the risk of many chronic conditions, and the risk of disability and mortality—an established finding that underpins the significance of this latest study, which has found that not many Americans are getting enough exercise.

In a week, a person should perform muscle-strengthening activities at least twice; as well as 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination that is equivalent). This is set forth in guidelines from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans set in 2008. 

On average, only 22.9 percent of Americans met both criteria, while 32.4 percent met at least one, and most, 44.7 percent, did not meet either of the two criteria. The NCHS study focused on Americans aged 18 to 64 between 2010 and 2015.

Gender, Work and Home State

Gender, work status, and state of residence affected the percentage of those meeting the criteria quite significantly, according to the findings.

In general, working men and women were more likely to get adequate exercise compared to their non-working counterparts, the study found. There were also differences between men and women—about 27.2 percent of men met the guidelines, while for women only about 18.7 percent met the guidelines.

(Stock/Victor Freitas/Unsplash)

In terms of states, the study said that those who lived on the West Coast and in the Northeast have higher percentages of people meeting the criteria compared to the southern states. Southeastern states were consistently low in percentages of people meeting the criteria. Colorado scored the highest in percentage of people meeting both criteria, at 32.5 percent, while Mississippi scored the lowest, at 13.5 percent.

Also, if a state has poorer health or higher levels of unemployment, these findings tended to correlate with lower rates of people meeting the exercise criteria, researchers found.

Leisure Time Physical Activity

“Understanding differences in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) by state is important because states have the ability to support physical activity goals and objectives,” study authors wrote in the report.

The study acknowledges that one of its limitations is that they are only focused on whether people are getting physical activity in their leisure time—this excludes possible physical activity that could be incorporated in a person’s time at work, or during their commute to work.

(Stock/Curtis MacNewton/Unsplash)

“This may explain, at least in part, why New York had such relatively low percentages of adults meeting the 2008 guidelines,” the study authors say, noting that more than 6 percent of commuters in New York State walk to work, which is just behind Alaska among all states in the percentage of those walking to work, and walking is counted as a moderate physical activity.

However, according to past studies, physical activity performed in a person’s leisure time appear to have more health benefits compared to that done at work or during a commute, the study authors acknowledged.

“Even among adults who are physically active on the job every workday, those who engage in LTPA are likely to report better health than those who do not engage in LTPA,” they wrote.

Other Limitations

They also noted that the percentages in the study have likely underestimated the proportion of Americans who meet the physical activity guidelines because exercise during work and commute were not included.

Researchers also noted the study’s limitations owing to the way it was conducted—it was based on people self-reporting via an in-person interview. People may provide incorrect information due to recall issues or misunderstanding the questions they were asked.

“Also, respondents may inflate self-assessments,” the study authors wrote. “… to avoid embarrassment or to create a favorable impression on the interviewer.”

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