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How Much Do Americans Really Exercise?

Washingtonians may be an anomaly, but overall Americans need to step up their game.

Washingtonians may be fit, but overall Americans are only exercising for two hours a week. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user CBP Photography.

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.

How often do you work out each week? Take our poll. 

  • I doubt that Americans exercise even to this extent. In the UK some trials have shown that our self reported figures of 45% & 55% for men and women is in fact 4% & 6% when measured by accelerometer.

  • I believe all this data is wrong. In the UK it had been reported for many years that "only" 45% of adults were exercising at the governments recommended levels. The advent of wearable devices has revealed that it's 6%..

  • Guest

    While I still exercise over 4 hours per week on a regular basis, I exercised much more when I was a teenager because I was a member of a sports team AND was required to attend phys ed class on a weekly basis. Can we implement mandatory phys ed classes into the workweek?

  • In the UK it was felt that 43% met the target. Turns out to 6%

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