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More than 15% of American adults get no exercise, including in Minnesota, CDC says

Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among us adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among us adults by state and territory, 2015–2018

More than 1 in 7 Americans across the United States are physically inactive, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That finding is troubling, but it doesn’t truly reflect the extent of America’s inactivity problem. For in a large chunk of the country — almost half the states and two territories (Puerto Rico and Guam) — more than 1 in 4 adults are physically inactive.

Indeed, in some areas of the country, almost 1 in 2 adults say they don’t exercise at all.

The findings are based on results from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys for the years 2015-2018. The agency has been conducting BRFSS telephone surveys each year for more than three decades.


To determine how physically active — or inactive — people are, the survey asks the following question: “During the past month, other than your regular job, did you participate in any physical activities or exercises such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking for exercise?” People who respond “no” are classified as physically inactive.

When the CDC researchers mapped the 2015-2018 results to that question, they found that states in the South tend to have the highest rates of inactivity (28 percent), followed by those in the Northeast (25.6 percent), the Midwest (25 percent) and the West (20.5 percent).

Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among non-hispanic white adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among non-Hispanic white adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
Puerto Rico had the biggest proportion of residents who reported not exercising (47.7 percent), followed by Mississippi (33 percent) and Alabama (31 percent).

The state with the smallest proportion of non-exercising adults was Colorado (17.3 percent), with Washington (18.3 percent) and Utah (18. 6 percent) not far behind.

In Minnesota, 21.2 percent of adults — more than 1 in 5 — report being physically inactive.

Minnesota’s rate is disappointing, to say the least, but it is lower than that of the state’s near-neighbors: Wisconsin (21.4 percent), South Dakota (22.3 percent), Iowa (24.2 percent) and North Dakota (24.6 percent).

In addition to the state differences, the data revealed some striking differences in inactivity by race and ethnicity. In most states, blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely to report being physically inactive than whites.

Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among hispanic adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among Hispanic adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
Overall, Hispanics have the highest prevalence of physical inactivity (31.7 percent), followed by blacks (30.3 percent) and whites (23.4 percent).

That pattern is true in Minnesota, too, where 36 percent of Hispanics, 26.7 percent of blacks and 19.9 percent of whites report being physically inactive.


“Too many adults are inactive, and they may not know how much it affects their health,” said Dr. Ruth Petersen, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, in a released statement. “Being physically active helps you sleep better, feel better and reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.”

As Petersen and her CDC colleagues point out, physical inactivity contributes to 1 in 10 premature deaths, and costs the U.S. economy $117 billion in annual healthcare expenditures.

Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among non-hispanic black adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
Prevalence of self-reported physical inactivity among non-Hispanic black adults by state and territory, 2015–2018
The CDC currently recommends that adults get a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. That’s the equivalent of walking briskly at a pace of at least three miles per hour or bicycling at a pace of 10 miles an hour or less on a flat surface.

Through its Active People, Healthy Nation initiative, the CDC is trying to make it easier and safer for Americans to incorporate exercise into their everyday lives.

FMI: The CDC’s state-by-state data on physical inactivity was published on the agency’s website.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/21/2020 - 10:21 am.

    While this helps me feel better about my individual activity, which hardly qualifies as “strenuous,” it’s really depressing for the state and the society as a whole. Nations generally decay from within, and this nation’s decay is apparently already well under way.

  2. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 01/21/2020 - 05:03 pm.

    I wish this survey took into account that some people have physically strenuous jobs, rather than only considering exercise as a leisure activity. A busy restaurant server, for example, or a postal worker might be on their feet for hours. So just because they don’t work out doesn’t mean they’re not active.

    That said, I’m sure a good number of Americans could stand to work out more.

  3. Submitted by Bill McKinney on 01/22/2020 - 02:05 pm.

    I would like to see the activity data plotted against percent of population living in poverty. In many ways exercise is a luxury good available to people with time and money. Anecdotally states in the Deep South that show up really red are also the highest poverty states while those in NE and West tend to have much lower poverty rates.

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