In U.S., Frequent Exercise Rebounds Slightly in 2010

by Elizabeth Mendes

Obese Americans are 28% less likely than those who are normal weight to report frequent exercise

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The percentage of Americans who said they exercised for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week rose to 51.1% in 2010, from 49.6% in 2009. Three in 10 adults reported exercising for at least 30 minutes zero days per week, a slight improvement from 2009, but on par with 2008.


The small uptick in frequent exercise in 2010 reveals a positive shift from 2009, when Americans reported exercising less frequently in almost every month compared with 2008, but is still on par with 2008 levels.

Gallup asks at least 1,000 American adults each day about their exercise frequency as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Specifically, respondents are asked to report on how many days in the last seven they exercised for at least 30 minutes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's current guidelines suggest adults get at least 150 minutes of "moderate-intensity aerobic activity" per week or 75 minutes of "vigorous-intensity aerobic activity." While the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index question does not measure the intensity or total number of minutes Americans exercise, it does provide a consistent and always up-to-date broad gauge of physical activity levels in America.

Obese Are 28% Less Likely Than Americans Who Are Normal Weight to Exercise Frequently

Obese Americans are about 28% less likely than Americans who are normal weight to say they exercise for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week. Approximately 4 in 10 obese Americans exercise that frequently compared with nearly 6 in 10 adults who are normal weight.


Those who are overweight are also less likely than those who are normal weight to exercise frequently, but they do so at a level about on par with the national average. The explanation for these relationships, however, is not clear. Overweight and obese people might have arrived at that state because they didn't exercise in the past, or they might have difficulty exercising because they are overweight and obese.

Young, High-Income Americans, and Those in the West Most Likely to Exercise Frequently

Young adults are among the most likely to exercise three or more days per week, with 56.2% reporting doing so, followed closely by upper-income Americans -- those with an annual household income of $90,000 or more -- (55.7%), and those living in the West (54.9%). Men and middle-income Americans (those whose household income is between $36,000 and $89,999 per year) also report frequent exercise levels higher than the national average.

The range in frequent exercise, however, is small, at eight percentage points. Low-income Americans (48.1%), Asian Americans (48.2%), and seniors (48.5%) are among the least likely to report three or more days of exercise.


In general, the groups most and least likely to exercise frequently also have the lowest and highest obesity rates in the nation. Young adults and high-income Americans are among those in the least obese groups, while low-income and black Americans are among the most likely to be obese.

One exception is Asian Americans. While they are among the least likely to report frequent exercise, they are also, by a significant margin, the least likely to be obese. This may reveal that Asian Americans' low obesity levels are tied more directly to their eating habits or to another potential genetic or economic factor.

Bottom Line

While it is positive that more Americans reported exercising frequently in 2010 than did so in 2009, about half of the U.S. adult population is still exercising two days or fewer, with 3 in 10 reporting zero days of exercise. Gallup also found obesity levels in the United States were stable in 2010, after increasing significantly in 2009, which may be tied in part to Americans exercising more often. If Americans commit to exercising more frequently, Gallup will likely see obesity levels decrease in the future.

Private and public sector policies and programs aimed specially at those groups that are the least likely to exercise frequently and the most likely to be obese -- low-income Americans and blacks -- are likely to have a positive influence on the nation's collective health situation. Additionally, getting more obese Americans -- who are 28% less likely than those who are normal weight to exercise frequently -- engaged in exercise programs will help improve the nation's weight problem.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey January 2008-December 2010, with a random sample of 352,840 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index uses respondents' self-reports of their height and weight to calculate body mass index scores. Individual BMI values of 30 or above are classified as "obese," 25 to 29.9 are "overweight," 18.5 to 24.9 are "normal weight," and 18.4 or less are "underweight."

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 200 cell phone respondents and 800 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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