It's Official: Americans Don't Get Enough Exercise

A new study from the CDC found that an estimated 80% of American adults do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity.

Researchers analyzed data from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, which polled 450,000 people in 50 states and the District of Colombia. Carmen Harris, MPH, and colleagues were specifically interested in evaluating levels of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise.

They asked respondents to report on their weekly physical activity levels, and then compared those results to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Just over half of adults followed the guidelines for aerobic activity, and 29.6% met the recommendations for muscle-strengthening activity. But few adults performed the right combination of both exercises. Only 20.6% of respondents met both recommendations for non-occupational muscle-strengthening and aerobic activity.

The guidelines for aerobic activity stand at 150 minutes a week of moderate activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity. For muscle-strengthening activities, the guidelines say adults should get a least two sessions of moderate or high-intensity activities involving all the major muscle groups.

Women, older adults, obese patients, and Hispanics were the least likely to meet both sets of recommendations. While women performed aerobic activity rates comparable to men, they lagged behind when it came to muscle-strengthening exercise, with only 24.5% of women meeting the muscle-strengthening guidelines, compared to 34.4% of men. This is concerning given that resistance training and weight lifting have linked to a decreased risk of osteoporosis in women.

The authors also found that exercise levels were significantly tied to education level. College-graduates were the most likely to meet both aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines (27.4%) while only 12% of those without a high-school diploma did.

It's possible that exercise rates may look different if the researchers did include occupational physical activity however, especially since people with lower levels of education often work in physically-demanding jobs. Still, the researchers pointed out that people have a tendency to overestimate their activity levels because of recall limitations or social-desirability bias.

Increasing your physical activity level could come with a host of health benefits, including reducing your risk of back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions. However many patients with chronic pain, especially older adults and overweight patients, may find it difficult to know where to begin. A doctor of chiropractic can advise you on using exercise therapy to safely prevent pain and improve your overall health.


Harris C, et al. Adult participation in aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activities -- United States, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2013; 62: 326-330.