Most of us don’t get nearly enough exercise.
According to a new CDC report, only 22.9% of Americans aged 18 to 64 met the government’s recommended physical activity guidelines between 2010 and 2015. Those guidelines call for healthy adults to do a minimum of two and half hours of moderate intensity activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity — plus at least two muscle-strengthening days a week.
But depending on where people live, some are vastly more likely than others to spend enough time working out.
In 14 states and Washington D.C., people were significantly more likely to hit the guidelines, according to the report. Residents of states in the West and New England were most likely to work out enough, with Coloradans topping the charts.
Meanwhile, residents of Southern states were least likely to work out. Mississippi residents were least likely to get enough exercise.
There were also significant differences between men and women, according to the CDC’s data. Overall, just over 27% of men meet fitness guidelines. For women, 18.7% met the minimum guidelines. In general, working men and women were more likely to get adequate exercise than non-working men and women.
One of the wrinkles in the CDC data is that they’re measuring whether people get enough activity through leisure time physical activity. That doesn’t count commuters who walk to work, even though walking generally can count as moderate intensity physical activity. In the report, the authors say that may be why New York ranks as low as it does.
Many New Yorkers rely on walking to work to get their physical activity. The only state with more commuters who walk to work is Alaska.
Still, in a bit of a perverse twist, most research finds the most significant health benefits come from leisure time physical activity — workouts you get through a job count as physical activity but don’t seem to be associated with the same health benefits as leisure time activities. And that means that to get the benefits of exercise, it’s worth trying to put in the time during any free hours you have.
What you should do to meet the guidelines
To meet the CDC’s bare minimum, you can put in about 30 minutes a day. Five days of moderate intensity aerobic exercise — a 30-minute brisk walk or a casual bike ride — is enough to meet the aerobic guidelines. Then two days of resistance training, using weights or bodyweight exercises, is also important, as these activities are the most important things you can to strengthen bones and muscles.
If that sounds like a lot, you can still get things done faster. It takes just 75 minutes of vigorous exercise to meet weekly guidelines. This could be a good paced run or swim — anything that gets your heart pumping.
It’s worth it. Working out is one of the best ways to transform both physical and mental health. In addition to significantly reducing the risk of conditions like heart disease and chronic illnesses like diabetes, physical activity also helps fight depression and anxiety, makes you happier, and more.
If you live a sedentary life in general, you may want to work out even more. Sitting all day basically causes gradual damage to your heart, according to some recent research. While meeting the basic fitness guidelines is important, most studies show that isn’t enough to offset the harms of sitting. To do that, you essentially need to double the recommendations, getting between 60 and 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day.
Again, that may sound like a lot. But when you look at the benefits of exercise, which include the ability to move around while feeling good, staving off an early death from chronic disease, and building in natural resilience to debilitating mental health struggles, it’s worth the time.