Americans Still Not Getting Enough Exercise
The health benefits of increased physical activity are widely reported—stronger muscles and bones, reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, increased chances of living longer, and weight control. Still, despite the benefits of being more active, most Americans don’t get enough exercise. In fact, the situation seems to be getting worse. Kids aren’t meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines by wide margins, and, disturbingly, 19-year-olds are just as sedentary as 60-year-olds, according to a study from the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
For older adults, particularly men over 60, the lack of physical activity is partially blamed on illness and chronic disease. The research, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, finds that the majority of older adults fail to come close to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendations for exercise. Strengthening exercises done several times a week can build muscles and increase bone density. WHO suggests combining it with at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread out over the week. Increasing physical activity, particularly in older adults with poor mobility, can help enhance balance and prevent falls.
The study also finds that important milestones in the transition from the teenage years into adulthood, including the end of mandatory schooling, entry into the workforce, marriage, and parenthood, are factors in decreased physical activity. Between the ages of 12 and 19, 75 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys don’t meet the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) exercise recommendations. The numbers are a little better for kids aged six-to-11—50 percent of the younger girls and just 25 percent of the younger boys met exercise recommendations set by the CDC. The study suggests that these low numbers for adolescent children could be due to cutbacks in sports in grade school and the lack of access to team sports in some areas. The CDC says children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, including at least three days a week of muscle-strengthening and three days a week of vigorous aerobic activity.
Between the ages of 20 and 60, the levels of physical activity are inconsistent, according to the John Hopkins report. “Beginning at age 20, there is a ‘catch up’ period that lasts until midlife,” say researchers. Adults start increasing their physical activity in their 20s and stabilize for a few years. But, when adults hit age 35, they begin to gradually decrease the amount of their physical activity up, a trend that continues through older adulthood.
Interestingly, the study finds that women are more physically active than men in the afternoon. The researchers suggest further study of the differences in patterns of activity between men and women could help them create recommendations that will get men to exercise more.