Three-quarters of Americans aren’t getting enough exercise, finds a new report published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some states are doing better that other when it comes to being active.
The report comes courtesy of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Researchers looked at five years of data from the National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative survey of Americans’ lifestyle and dieting habits. From 2010 to 2015, more than 155,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 were asked if and how often they engaged in aerobic and/or muscle building exercise in their free time.
Twenty-three percent of people said they worked out enough to meet the nationally recommended guidelines for both types of exercise. That amounts to getting either 150 minutes of light-to-moderate-intensity physical activity, or 70 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, per week, and also performing muscle-strengthening exercises at least two to three times a week. Thirty-four percent said they exercised enough to meet only one of the guidelines, while 45 percent met neither.
The numbers are actually encouraging in some ways. Healthy People 2020, a 10-year-long national public health initiative to improve efforts to promote health and prevent disease, set a goal of getting at least 20.1 percent of Americans to exercise enough by 2020—a goal we’ve now accomplished. But on a state-to-state level, there were dramatic differences in who’s exercising.
In Colorado, 32.5 percent of residents exercised enough, making it the most active state in the nation. But in Mississippi, only 13.5 percent of people got enough physical activity, making it the least active.
Thirteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had rates of adequate exercise far below the national average of 23 percent, while 14 states had above-average rates. Those states also tend to have lower rates of obesity, while states with lower exercise rates have higher rates of obesity.
“Many of the states with the highest percentages of populations meeting the guidelines through leisure-time physical activity were what you’d call ‘cold weather states’ like Colorado, New Hampshire, Massachusetts,” study Tainya Clarke, a CDC epidemiologist, told CNN. “And usually, we would think the warmer states would have more people outside running or biking or cycling, because that’s what we see on TV all the time.”
Gender also seemed to play a role, as did employment status. Nationally, 27.2 percent of men reported enough exercise, compared to 18.7 percent of women. And employed people on average reported more exercise than did people not currently working. Across professions, Clarke and her team found that people with white-collar jobs were more likely to exercise than people with physically demanding jobs (the survey only asked about leisure-time exercise, so it’s possible that many of these people are indeed getting sufficient physical activity).
Despite having met the Healthy People 2020 goals early, Clarke told CNN that there’s a lot more to be done. “We have to pause and ask ourselves, are we doing great as a nation? Is it really good that only 23 percent of our population is engaged in enough aerobic activity and muscle strength training, or do we need to do better?” she said.