Vigorous Exercise on the Decline

Fewer Americans Exercising Regularly

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 15, 2003 -- Seems like Americans are getting better at packing on the pounds than lifting them. A new survey shows fewer Americans regularly exercised in 2002 than in 2001. And only about one in four Americans is following the advice of major sports-medicine experts to include weight training in their workout program.

The Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey shows the number of Americans that regularly engage in vigorous exercise - enough to cause large increases in breathing and heart rate for at least 20 minutes -- dropped from 52% in 2001 to 45% in 2002. These discouraging numbers follow multiple reports last year of Americans getting larger -- with weight-related conditions, such as diabetes, reaching epidemic proportions.

No change was found in the number of Americans who regularly participate in moderate exercise at least once a week. This would include activities such as walking or gardening, which can slightly increase breathing or heart rate. About four in five adults fell into this category in both 2001 and 2002, including about a third who exercise moderately five to seven times a week and a quarter once or twice a week.

Researchers divided the survey participants into the following activity levels:

  • High activity -- participating in vigorous exercise three or more times a week.
  • Medium activity -- engaging in vigorous exercise one or two times a week.
  • Low activity -- participating in vigorous exercise less than once a week but in moderate exercise three or more times a week.
  • Sedentary -- engaging in vigorous exercise less than once a week and in moderate exercise less than three times a week.

Most Americans fell under the low activity or sedentary categories. Only 28% of the American public were considered highly active and 17% moderately active.

For the first time, this annual survey also included a question about weight training, in accordance with recent recommendations from several major health organizations. Almost 75% of the people said they never do so.

The researchers also found that the number of adults over 50 who said they do weight training regularly was even lower, at 18%, despite research that shows weight training is critical to maintaining bone density and muscle strength among older adults.