Survey Shows 25% of U.S. Adults Are Physically Inactive

New survey data shows that 25% of adults in the United States report being physically inactive — meaning they haven’t engaged in any leisure-time physical activity over the past month — representing an increase in inactivity over the past two years, according to a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1].

Physical activity is linked to numerous health benefits, including a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes[2]. It has also been shown to help reduce blood glucose levels after meals[3] in people with type 1 diabetes[4], and to reduce the risk for dementia[5] in older adults. Even if you have end-stage kidney disease and are on dialysis, physical activity is linked to a lower overall risk of death[6] — demonstrating that it’s never definitively too late to benefit from exercise. One especially timely research finding has been that not getting enough physical activity is linked to a higher risk for severe COVID-19[7], meaning an infection that requires hospitalization — as well as worse outcomes in people who are hospitalized. In case protecting your health isn’t enough reason to stay physically active, research also shows that it may help protect your bank account by lowering health care costs throughout adulthood[8].

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Many U.S. adults report being physically inactive

The latest research findings are based on responses from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a telephone interview survey conducted by the CDC and state health departments. It looked at combined data from 2017 to 2020 to look at changes to physical activity over time. Researchers found disparities in physical activity levels based on a number of different factors, including location and race or ethnicity. But the overall picture wasn’t a good one — the latest numbers show that in all but four states, at least 20% of adults report being physically inactive. By region, the West had the lowest overall level of inactivity at 21.0%, followed by the Northeast at 24.7%, the Midwest at 25.2%, and the South at 27.5%. Colorado had the lowest reported level of physical inactivity at 17.7%, while Puerto Rico had the highest level at 49.9%, followed by Mississippi at 33.2%.

Overall, adults who identified as Hispanic or Latino had the highest levels of physical inactivity outside of work, at 32.1% — but this number may reflect the fact that many people in this category have physically active jobs, and so are less likely to need or want to exercise outside of work. Levels of physical inactivity for other groups included 30.0% for non-Hispanic Black adults, 29.1% for non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native adults, 23.0% for non-Hispanic White adults, and 20.1% for non-Hispanic Asian adults.

Overall, the rate of physical inactivity has gone up since the last time the CDC released similar data in January 2020, as reported in a Healio[10] article at the time. Back then, Colorado also held the lowest rank at 17.3%, and Puerto Rico the highest rank at 47.7%. At that point in time, the West also had the lowest level of inactivity at 20.5%, and the South had the highest level at 28.0% — indicating a modest improvement in physical activity in the South over the last two years, even though that region still has the highest level of inactivity.

“Getting enough physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths,” said Ruth Petersen, MD, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, in the latest press release. “Too many people are missing out on the health benefits of physical activity such as improved sleep[11], reduced blood pressure[12] and anxiety, [and a] lowered risk for heart disease[13], several cancers, and dementia.”

Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,”[14] “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals”[15] and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”[16]

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  2. lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes:
  3. reduce blood glucose levels after meals:
  4. type 1 diabetes:
  5. reduce the risk for dementia:
  6. linked to a lower overall risk of death:
  7. higher risk for severe COVID-19:
  8. lowering health care costs throughout adulthood:
  9. sign up for our free newsletters:
  10. Healio:
  11. improved sleep:
  12. blood pressure:
  13. heart disease:
  14. “Add Movement to Your Life,”:
  15. “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals”:
  16. “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”:

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