Fewer Americans Feeling the Burn

by Lydia Saad

Dwindling number report vigorous exercise

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- For all of those Americans resolving to spend more time at the gym this New Year, Gallup's 2002 Health and Healthcare Poll should provide further motivation to stick to it. According to the Nov. 11-14 survey, the trend on U.S. adults' activity level is going the wrong way, as the percentage engaged in regular vigorous exercise fell from 52% in 2001 to 45% in 2002. The poll finds no change in Americans' self-reported involvement in moderate exercise, but the net effect is that a majority of Americans (54%) are now categorized as low activity or sedentary in Gallup's overall exercise index. Just 28% are considered high activity, with another 17% falling into the "medium activity" category.

An additional question, asked for the first time in 2002, found only one in four Americans following the relatively new recommendation coming from sports-medicine experts to include weight training in one's exercise program.

Trends in Self-Reported Exercise

Vigorous Exercise Declined in 2002

Gallup recorded a statistically significant drop in the percentage of Americans engaging in regular vigorous exercise over the past year, based on this question: "Generally, how many days per week do you participate in vigorous sports or physical activities for at least 20 minutes that cause large increases in breathing or heart rate?" Fewer than half of Americans (45%) now report participating in such activity at least once a week, compared with a slim majority (52%) in November 2001.

Evidence of a decline in vigorous exercise was seen at all frequencies of participation, including those who exercise 1-2 times per week, and those who exercise 5 or more times.

Vigorous Exercise: Number of Days Per Week

 

Not

at all

Less than once


1-2


3-4


5-7

2002 Nov 11-14

51%

3

17

17

11

2001 Nov 8-11

43%

5

20

18

14

Most Still Report Being Moderately Active

At the same time, Gallup sees no change in Americans' moderate exercise behavior over the past year. In both 2001 and 2002, about four in five adults have reported doing moderate exercise (defined as "moderate sports or recreational activities that cause slight increases in breathing or heart rate, such as walking, gardening, or other similar activities") at least once a week. This includes about one-third who participate frequently (5-7 times per week), one-quarter who do so three or four times a week, and an additional quarter who participate once or twice a week. Seventeen percent of the public admits it never engages in moderate exercise, while another 2% say they do so less than once a week.

Moderate Exercise: Number of Days Per Week

 

Not
at all

Less than once


1-2


3-4


5-7

2002 Nov 11-14

17%

2

27

23

31

2001 Nov 8-11

16%

2

25

24

33

Few Have Taken Weight-Training Command to Heart

Only one in four Americans tell Gallup they participate in weight-training activities at least once a week; 73% say they never do. The rate of participation in such activities is even lower among older Americans, for whom it is reported to be so critical to the maintenance of strength and bone density in later life. Just 18% of Americans 50 and older report doing weight training at least weekly.

Fewer Than One in Three Is Highly Active

Gallup computes an exercise index that combines Americans' self-reported participation in vigorous and moderate exercise.

  • High activity is defined as engaging in vigorous exercise three or more times a week.
  • Medium activity is defined as engaging in vigorous exercise one to two times a week.
  • Low activity is defined as engaging in vigorous exercise less than once a week, but moderate exercise three or more times a week.
  • Sedentary is defined as engaging in vigorous activity less than once a week and moderate exercise less than three times per week.

On this basis, only 28% of the American public can be considered high activity in 2002, and another 17% are medium activity. With the drop in vigorous exercise, both of these figures are down from 2001; thus, the total falling into either high or medium activity dropped from 51% to 45% over this period. A majority of Americans (54%) can now be considered low activity or sedentary, up from 48% in 2001.

Gallup Exercise Index

Gender and Age Patterns in Exercise

Forthcoming articles in Gallup's Premium Tuesday Briefing will explore the demographics of exercise: how men, women, young, old, and other groups compare in their activity levels -- and also how self-reported exercise compares with general assessments of physical and mental wellbeing.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Nov. 11-14, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects 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, generally, how many days per week do you participate in each of the following activities -- or do you participate less than once a week or not at all? How about -- [ROTATED]?

A. Vigorous sports or physical activities for at least 20 minutes that cause large increases in breathing or heart rate

Less than once



1-2



3-4



5-6



7


Not
at all


No opinion



Mean



Median

National Adults

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

2002 Nov 11-14

3

17

17

7

4

51

1

1.5

0

2001 Nov 8-11

5

20

18

9

5

43

*

1.7

1

* Less than 0.5%

B. Moderate sports or recreational activities that cause slight increases in breathing or heart rate, such as walking, gardening, or other similar activities

Less than once



1-2



3-4



5-6



7


Not
at all


No opinion



Mean



Median

National Adults

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

2002 Nov 11-14

2

27

23

15

16

17

*

3.1

3

2001 Nov 8-11

2

25

24

15

18

16

*

3.2

3

* Less than 0.5%

C. Weight lifting or weight training

Less than once



1-2



3-4



5-6



7


Not
at all


No opinion



Mean



Median

National Adults

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

2002 Nov 11-14

2

10

11

3

1

73

*

0.7

0

2001 Nov. 9-11

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

* Less than 0.5%

Total Exercise Index (Q.20A-B)

High

Medium

Low

Sedentary

Undesignated

%

%

%

%

%

National Adults

2002 Nov 11-14

28

17

22

32

1

2001 Nov 8-11

31

20

21

27

1

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