Americans exercise much less than experts recommend for optimal health, say researchers at Penn State and the University of Maryland. Although the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is four hours of physical activity each week — about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise and about an hour-and-a-half of vigorous activity, such as running and muscle strengthening — most Americans get only about two hours of exercise each 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 researchers studied information from more than 100,000 time diaries kept by Americans in a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. They found that walking is the most common activity. Of active team sports, basketball was 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 researcher John Robinson, professor of sociology, University of Maryland. "This is particularly true among teenagers, who spend about seven times more time than older adults playing basketball, as well as other team sports."
Teens were about 2.5 times more likely to exercise than older adults, exercising about 41 minutes each day compared to 17 minutes daily for adults ages 18 to 64 and 13 minutes for seniors over the age of 65.
Why aren't Americans exercising more? "First, we live in an automobile culture," Godbey said. "Second, 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."
The survey also showed that men exercised about twice as much as women, and that seniors are about as active as younger adults in some activities, such as aerobics and cardiovascular exercise.
Even though two hours a week of exercise doesn't seem like much, it's 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," Robinson said.