Americans exercise about 2 hours a week; fall short of recommended 4

May 10, 2012, 4:06 p.m.

Basketball is by far the most popular sport people play to stay in shape, according to a new study. (Credit: Leo Reynolds/Flickr Creative Commons)

Federal recommendations suggest that American adults exercise about four hours out of every week.

But Americans just don't seem to have the time, says a new study that found that people in the U.S., on average, spend about two hours a week exercising.

To put that in perspective: There are 168 hours in a week. If Americans sleep eight hours each day and work 40-hour weeks, that leaves 72 hours to work out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that we devote four of those to exercise.

We can only manage two – and that's an average, which means some people spend even less than that. Researcher Geoffrey Godbey didn't mince words.

"The United States is the fattest country in the world," he said in a statement. "The amount of exercise Americans get has become a major concern."

Godbey and his team analyzed federal data from the American Time Use Study, which surveyed more than 100,000 people of all ages on how much time they spend on sports and fitness activities.

They found that dedicated walking is the most prevalent activity – about five percent of Americans walk every day for an average of 53 minutes. As far as the nation's favorite sport? It might not be as all-American as you think.

"Baseball may be our national pastime and football our main spectator sport, but the daily time spent on basketball is higher than both of them combined," said researcher John Robinson in the statement, adding that that's particularly true for teenagers.

Teenagers, they discovered, participate in fitness activities for an average of about 41 minutes per day. Adults (age 18-64) are a distant second, at 17 minutes per day, and seniors over 65 aren't that far behind the adults, with 13 minutes per day.

That's an average of about two hours a week. The CDC recommends that adults get four hours of exercise in a week, split between two-and-a-half hours for moderate exercise and one-and-a-half for more vigorous activity.

And even though that's more than Americans were exercising in 1965, it's still not enough. Robinson explained why Americans can't meet recommendations.

"First, we live in an automobile culture," he said. "Second, we are almost addicted to television and computers. Third, our society is aging. Fourth, a lot of physical activities, such as hockey and tennis, can be expensive to participate in because of the gear and memberships they require. And finally, because of crime, some people are afraid to leave their homes to go out for a walk or a run."

That last part could be especially true for southside Angelenos, according to Brian Leung. Leung is the director of the School Psychology Program and chair of Department of Educational Support Services in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University.

"Gyms are not as readily available for general exercises and are costly [in the inner-city]," he explained to OnCentral in February, noting the inner-city's higher crime rate. "Residents may lack knowledge about forms of exercise, what to do to benefit what part of the body, the need to exercise even if one has a physical job. All these reasons lead to less exercising for inner-city residents."

A report by the L.A. County Department of Public Health revealed that in 2009, 76 percent of adults in South L.A. – a county low – believed their neighborhoods had safe places to be physically active.

That same report showed that nearly 39 percent of adults in the area are "minimally active or inactive," and that only about 34 percent of the kids in South L.A. were receiving the recommended amount of exercise each week.

Photo by Leo Reynolds via Flickr Creative Commons.

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