Few Americans Meet Exercise Targets

by Lydia Saad

Self-reported rates of physical exercise show little change since 2001

PRINCETON, NJ -- Resolving to exercise more frequently goes hand in hand with the desire of most Americans to lose weight, but Gallup's annual trends on personal exercise suggest that sedentary habits are hard to break. Since 2001, Americans' rates of participation in three broad categories of exercise have barely budged.

Each year as part of Gallup's November Health and Healthcare survey, Gallup asks Americans to say how frequently they participate in "moderate sports or recreational activities," "vigorous sports or exercise activities," and "weight-lifting or weight-training." The percentages reporting regular participation in each -- defined as three or more times weekly -- has shown little meaningful year-to-year variation, and essentially no change since the baseline year of 2001 for moderate and vigorous exercise, and since 2002 for weight training.

Approximately 6 in 10 Americans indicate they regularly engage in moderate exercise (59% in 2007); about half as many regularly engage in vigorous exercise (32%); and about half as many as that report doing regular weight training (15%).

The rates of physical activity broaden when considering the percentage of Americans participating in each type of exercise at least once a week. On that basis, 83% of Americans sometimes engage in moderate exercise, 51% in vigorous exercise, and 27% in weight training.

However, the occasional brisk walk, game of tennis, or run on a treadmill is a long way from standard medical recommendations for physical fitness. Those generally call for people to engage in moderate exercise at least five days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise (aerobic activity) three days a week, plus to do strengths training twice a week. And according to information on Mayoclinic.com, these are only minimum recommendations. Individuals who want to lose weight may need even more exercise.

Given Americans' low rate of participation in weight training, most U.S. adults fall well short of this target regime. Only 17% in Gallup's 2007 Health and Healthcare survey both lift weights at least twice a week and engage in vigorous exercise three times a week or in moderate exercise five times a week.

Take weight lifting out of the equation, and still only half of Americans (50%) meet the basic requirements for getting enough exercise.

With 41% of Americans telling Gallup they are overweight and 60% saying they want to lose weight, there is plenty of reason for these numbers to improve in 2008. Whether they will remains to be seen, but, given the trends, it's unlikely.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 11-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Now thinking just about formal exercise programs you may participate in,

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