Few Americans Get Vigorous Activity

Study Shows That TV Watching, Other Sedentary Activities Dominate Most People's Time

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 17, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 17, 2010 --Only 5% of Americans perform vigorous activities on a given day. But sedentary activities such as watching TV and movies were carried out daily by 80% of Americans.

Those findings are based on data collected between 2003 and 2008 as part of the American Time Use Survey. Researchers led by Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD, of the Walking Behavior Laboratory, Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., looked at data on 79,652 men and women aged 20 and older.

Researchers wanted to determine the 10 most common non-work activities. The participants’ activities were broken down into three categories: vigorous, moderate, and sedentary.

They found that sedentary activities dominated people’s time, followed by moderate and then vigorous levels of activity:

  • The most frequently reported, non-work behavior was eating and drinking, at 95.6%.
  • Washing, dressing, and grooming oneself was reported by 78.9%.
  • Driving a truck, car, or motorcycle was reported by 71.4%.
  • Moderate physical activities such as food preparation were reported by 25.7%. In this group, 12.8% of men reported food preparation, compared with 37.6% of women.
  • Caring for one’s lawn and gardening were reported by 10.6%.
  • The most common vigorous activities reported were using cardiovascular exercise equipment (2.2%) and running (1.1%).

The findings are published in the October issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Active vs. Sedentary

Researchers are interested in evaluating how Americans spend their time to determine where and how they can intervene to help increase the amount of physical activity Americans need to stay healthy. Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which are all related to sedentary behaviors, have a high prevalence in the U.S. Exercise is often recommended to help reduce the risk or better manage these illnesses.

The authors note that the survey did not take into account occupational activities, only non-work activities. However, it is estimated that 78% to 88% of the U.S. workforce is employed in sedentary jobs, according to the article.

Show Sources


News release, American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Tudor-Locke, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2010.

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