Sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950, according to the American Heart Association.
Further, only 20% of jobs in the United States are physically active. This is a drastic change over the last 60 years. In 1960, roughly half of jobs were physically active .
Given that worrying trend, let’s look at the latest statistics on sedentary lifestyles in the United States. Hopefully, you’ll leave with an increased desire to get up and move!
1. Around 25% of American adults are physically inactive
According to data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), approximately 25% of adults in the United States are physically inactive .
This means that 1 in 4 Americans surveyed didn’t participate in any physical activities or exercises outside of their regular job in the last month.
Depending on the US state, the prevalence of inactivity ranged from 17.7% – 49.4%. The average prevalence across all 52 states surveyed was 25.4%.
2. 77% of Americans do not meet aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines
Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System also tell us that only 23% of American adults are meeting both aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines .
In other words, 77% of adults in the United States are not getting the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise.
Adults failed the aerobic guidelines if they didn’t get at least:
- 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or
- 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
They failed the muscle strengthening guidelines if they didn’t engage in muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week.
About 50% (48.5%) of adults don’t meet the aerobic guidelines, and about 65% don’t meet the muscle strengthening guidelines.
3. The USA ranks in the bottom 15% of studied countries for physical activity
In a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys involving 1.9 million people, the United States ranked 143rd out of 168 countries .
In other words, in the bottom 15% of the countries included in the dataset.
According to the data, around 40% of Americans get insufficient physical activity.
By contrast, the 3 countries the the highest levels of physical activity are:
- Uganda (5.5% of the population insufficiently active)
- Mozambique (5.6% of the population insufficiently active)
- Lesotho (6.3% of the population insufficiently active)
At the other end of the scale, the 3 countries with the lowest levels of physical activity are:
- Kuwait (67% of the population insufficiently active)
- Iraq (52% of the population insufficiently active); and
- Saudi Arabia (53.1% of the population insufficiently active)
4. Americans spend 55% of their waking time sedentary
According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Americans spend 55% (7.7 hours) of their waking time in sedentary behaviors .
Older adolescents and adults aged 60 or over were the most sedentary groups, spending about 60% of their time in sedentary activities.
According to a more recent 2015-2016 survey (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), 1 in 4 American adults sit for more than 8 hours every day .
Additionally, 44% did no real (10 minutes or more) moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity in a typical week.
Sitting for much less than 8 hours a day and being physically active appears to be unusual. Only 2.6% of participants reported sitting for less than 4 hours and being sufficiently active .
5. Daily sitting time has recently increased by 16% for American adults
In a cross-sectional study with 51896 participants, total sitting time increased for adults in the United States from 5.5 to 6.4 hours/day between 2007-2016 . This is an increase of around 16%.
For adolescents, sitting time increased from 7 to 8.2 hours/day (~17% increase).
6. About 60% of Americans watch television or videos for at least 2 hours a day
Based on data from 2015-16, around 60% of Americans spend 2 or more hours each day sitting watching television or videos .
This percentage ranges from 59% – 65% depending on the age group, with adults 20 years of age or older closest to 65%.
7. More than 50% of Americans use computers in their free time for 1 hour or more a day
Computer use outside of school or work has been increasing across all age groups .
From 2001 – 2016, the prevalence of computer use outside of school or work for 1 hour or more went from:
- 43% to 56% for children in the United States
- 53% to 57% for adolescents in the United States
- 29% to 50% for adults in the United States
This increase in computer usage is most stark for American adults (20 years or older).
8. COVID-19 home confinement increased the hours spent sitting per day by 28.6%
In a recent 2020 survey, researchers found an increase of 28.6% in the number of hours spent sitting per day during COVID-19 home confinement .
Additionally, the number of days per week participants engaged in physical activity fell by 24%.
Given that regular physical activity in conjunction with other precautions may help in dealing with the health outcomes of COVID-19, these are some troubling statistics.
9. Only 3.1% of Americans walk or bike to work
The U.S.Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found only 3.1% of American adults biked or walked to work in 2019 .
That’s a huge percent (almost 97%) missing out on a powerful source of incidental exercise!
By comparison, one study showed around 47% of adults either walk (22%) or bike (25%) to work in the Netherlands .
The 3 states where adults walked or biked the least were:
- Mississippi (1.2%)
- Alabama (1.3%)
- Tennessee (1.5%)
The 3 states where adults walked or biked the most were:
- District of Columbia (17.4%)
- Alaska (7.8%)
- New York (6.9%)
10. 1 in 10 premature deaths in America could be prevented by getting enough physical activity
According to the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO), 1 in 10 premature deaths could be prevented with enough physical activity .
Additionally, physical activity may help prevent :
- 1 in 8 cases of breast cancer
- 1 in 8 cases of colorectal cancer
- 1 in 12 cases of diabetes
- 1 in 15 cases of heart disease
11. $117 billion in annual health care costs in the United States are associated with inadequate physical activity
According to a study done by the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), around $117 billion in annual health care costs are associated with insufficient physical activity .
This amounts to around 11.1% of total health care expenditures.
Additionally, the study found that inactive adults pay on average 26.6% more for health care costs.
Further, looking at participants in a Minnesota health plan aged 40 or over, every additional “active” day per week was associated with a 4.7% decrease in health care expenses .
12. In the US, women are less physically active than men
In the pooled analysis done by Lancet Global Health, almost half (48%) of females and 31.7% of males in America are not active enough .
Across 168 studied countries, the prevalence of physical inactivity was on average 8.95% higher in women.
13. More than 1 in 3 Americans are obese
According to data published by the World Health Organisation in 2016, 36% of Americans are obese .
By comparison, 13% of the global adult population are obese. In India, this percentage drops to a tiny 3.9%.
In general, the prevalence of obesity increases with prosperity. So, higher-income countries across Europe, North America and Oceania tend to have higher obesity rates.
This is a concern since over 8% of deaths globally are the result of obesity.
Note: obesity is defined here as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or higher.
Physical activity guidelines for Americans
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recommends a number of physical activity guidelines for people in the United States.
Some of the key guidelines in the 2nd edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2018) are summarized in the table below.
|Preschool-aged children (3 – 5 years)||Be physically active throughout the dayBe encouraged to actively play, including a variety of activity types|
|Children and adolescents (6 – 17 years)||Do 1 hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity dailyMost of the activity should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, with vigorous-intensity being done at least 3 days per weekPart of the physical activity should be muscle- and bone-strengthening, which should be at least 3 days per week|
|Adults||Move more and sit less throughout the dayDo at least 150 – 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 – 300 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activityPreferably aerobic physical activity should be spread throughout the weekDo muscle-strengthening exercises of moderate or greater intensity 2 or more days per week|
|Older adults||All the guidelines for “adults” plus:Include other types of physical activity like balance trainingDetermine their level of effort relative to their fitness levelBe as physically active as any chronic conditions and abilities allow|
|Pregnant women||Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per weekPreferably aerobic physical activity should be spread throughout the weekConsult a health care provider about whether to adjust their physical activity during the pregnancy|
|Adults with chronic health conditions and / or disabilities||Same guidelines as “adults”, but subject to their abilities (i.e. do their best to be as active as possible)|
Although many of us have to sit extensively for work or school, there are some ways to introduce more movement into our day.
One option you may want to consider is investing in a sit-stand desk, which can facilitate varying your physical position through the day.
The ability to stand while working also makes it easier to mix in light stretches or exercises (i.e. squats) throughout the day.
Similarly, some like to alternate between an ergonomic chair and a more active sitting device like a kneeling chair. Again, this helps avoid remaining completely stationary throughout the day.
Hopefully, this article has helped spotlight some key statistics around sedentary lifestyles in the United States today, as well as some key recommendations to ensure you remain active.