Main Content

Study: People Are Not Meeting Exercise Guidelines

jogging outdoor in park

Most adults in the USA aren’t meeting the federal physical activity recommendations for both aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening activity, according to government statistics out today.

About 79% of adults don’t meet the physical activity guidelines that advise getting at least 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging. Plus, the guidelines recommend that adults do muscle-strengthening activities, such as push-ups, sit-ups or exercise using resistance bands or weights. These activities should involve all major muscle groups and be done on two or more days a week, the guidelines say.

Regular physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of early death, help control weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some types of cancer and a host of other conditions. It lowers the risk of cognitive decline and hip fractures.

Other research indicates that people are less active than these statistics suggest. Scientists with the National Cancer Institute, using actual motion sensors, found that fewer than 5% of adults in the USA get at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes.

The latest statistics, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are based on self-reported data from more than 450,000 respondents participating in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual phone survey of adults, 18 and older.

Among the findings:

  • 21% of adults say they met both the aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines.
  • About 52% say they are meeting the aerobic activity guideline.
  • 29% say they are meeting the muscle-strengthening activity recommendation.
  • The range of people meeting the overall guidelines varied by state. For instance, 27% of those in Colorado met them compared with 13% in Tennessee and West Virginia.
  • Women, Hispanics, older adults and obese adults were all less likely to meet the exercise guidelines.

“This is a great start, and we can use this information to encourage other adults to increase their aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity,” says Carmen Harris, an epidemiologist in CDC’s physical activity and health branch. “Improving access to safe and convenient places, such as parks, walking trails and sidewalks, can increase opportunities for physical activity in communities.”

Tim Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, says, “It amazes me that given all the well-known benefits of physical activity that so few Americans choose to be regularly active. The most powerful thing you can do for your health is become active.”

Here are some ways people can meet these exercise recommendations in a week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

  • Take a brisk walk for 30 minutes on five days (moderate intensity); exercise with resistance bands two days (muscle strengthening).
  • Run for 25 minutes three days (vigorous intensity); lift weights on two days.
  • Take a brisk walk for 30 minutes two days (moderate); go dancing for an hour one evening (moderate); mow the law for 30 minutes (moderate); do heavy gardening two days (muscle strengthening).
  • Do 30 minutes of an aerobic dance class (vigorous); do 30 minutes of running one day (vigorous); take a brisk walk for 30 minutes one day (moderate); do calisthenics (sit-ups, push-ups) on three days.
  • Bike to and from work for 30 minutes on three days (moderate); play softball for 60 minutes one day (moderate); use weight machines two days.
  • Play doubles tennis for 45 minutes two days (moderate); lift weights one day; hike vigorously for 30 minutes and go rock climbing one day (muscle strengthening).


Skip to content