New government research paints a dire picture of Americans and their exercise habits. Across all 50 states, at least 15 percent of adults reported being physically inactive, while in some areas of the country, nearly 50 percent of adults said they got no form of exercise.
The research is based on four years of survey data (2015-2018) collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was published Thursday on the CDC’s website. The telephone-run survey asked people if they had participated “in any physical activities or exercises such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking for exercise” in the past month, outside of any work duties. Those who said no were classified as inactive.
According to the CDC’s estimate, more than 15 percent of residents in every state or U.S. territory would be considered physically inactive. The percentage ranged from 17.3 percent of people living in Colorado to 47.7 percent living in Puerto Rico.
At least 30 percent of people living in seven other states concentrated in the south—Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky—as well as the U.S. territory of Guam also reported being inactive. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Washington D.C. were the only places where less than 20 percent were inactive.
The new findings do have their limitations, particularly since they only ask about people’s exercise habits in their free time. Some Americans have jobs that are plenty strenuous, but as a whole, the amount of physical activity Americans get through work is on the downslide. According to the CDC, about half of all Americans don’t get enough exercise, even if they do get in some physical activity during the work week.
While the lack of exercise is a problem for Americans in general, it’s worse for black and Hispanic people. Both groups reported higher rates of physical inactivity overall in the new CDC survey.
“Too many adults are inactive, and they may not know how much it affects their health,” said Ruth Petersen, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, in a statement by the CDC.
If all Americans did get their recommended amount of exercise—at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, such as jogging or swimming—about one in every 10 early deaths could be prevented annually, the agency estimates.
But other research has shown that any amount of regular exercise can still have meaningful health benefits, no matter how old you are.
“Being physically active helps you sleep better, feel better and reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers,” noted Peterson.
Some of our collective inability to exercise more might be chalked up to strictly personal factors. But the scarcity of safe and communal spaces such as parks in many neighborhoods and other aspects of social inequality play an important role as well.