Unexpected Factors That May Influence Your Exercise Habits

Unexpected Factors That May Influence Your Exercise Habits

How your gender, race and income could be keeping you on the couch.

A 2017 report published in Gallup and Sharecare’s State of American Well-Being series looked at the rates of regular exercise among Americans. Respondents to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index were asked how many times in the last week they exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes at a time. Those who worked out for three or more days, by the study’s standards, were considered regular exercisers. It’s important to note that the study’s data was self-reported, so participants could have considered a wide range of activities like walking, running, cycling, hiking, going to the gym, gardening or performing household chores as exercise.

Among the most active communities were Boulder (#1), Fort Collins (#2) and Greeley (#4) in Colorado and San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande (#3) and Santa Rosa (#5) in California. Akron, Ohio and Hickory–Lenoir–Morganton, North Carolina didn’t fare so well, earning themselves spots among the least-active communities in 2016.

Regular exercise offers benefits including weight control, a reduced risk for several chronic health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes as well as greater longevity. The national physical activity guidelines, which were updated in 2018, recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. But if you can get closer to 300 minutes of week of moderate exercise or 150 minutes of more strenuous activity, it’s even better. In fact, the more exercise you get, the greater the health benefits, experts advise. Keep in mind however, every bit of exercise counts towards your weekly goal. Taking the stairs, walking the dog, gardening or even just a two-minute walk count as exercise and offer health benefits.

Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week. Older people are also advised to add balance training to their weekly aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities to help reduce their risk for falls and fall-related injuries.

Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t meeting these new fitness standards, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Surprisingly, how likely you are to exercise and how often may be linked, in part, to more than your willpower or desire to get in shape. In fact, factors like your ethnicity, gender and income may play a role in how active you are.   

Men vs. women
Only 26 percent of men get the recommended aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity each week. The same is true for just 19 percent of women, the DHHS reports.

These results are in-line with other research that suggests men get more physical activity than their female counterparts, and are not specific to the United States alone. One Brazilian study of 3,100 people suggests men are more likely than women to get active during leisure time, the hours in a day not dedicated to work, household chores or sleep.     

What’s race got to do with it?
The rate of physical activity varies by race and ethnicity, too. Among the most successful at getting regular exercise were members of the Hispanic population. More than 55 percent of Hispanics surveyed performed 30 minutes of exercise or more at least three times in the previous week. At 54.6 percent, Asians were not far behind.

Money matters
Your income also has a relationship to the amount of regular exercise you do. Data suggests, the more money an individual makes, the more he or she moves. There could be a lot of reasons for this, including flexible work schedules, access to child care and enough financial stability to pay for gym memberships and workout classes, all of which may getting and staying active easier.  

The study showed that people with an annual income below 36,000 dollars exercised at a rate 4.3 percentage points lower, as compared to those who earned between 36,000 and 90,000 dollars a year. The margin is even greater as income increases—people with a salary between 36,000 and 90,000 were 9.3 percentage points lower in terms of regular exercise, as compared to those who made more than 90,000 dollars.   

Exercising with age
There’s more still. Age also has a relationship with just how much a person moves. More people between the ages of 18 and 29 got regular physical activity in comparison to survey participants over 65, dropping from 59.5 percent to 49.6 percent. Rates of regular activity declined steadily with age, from 54.9 percent for those between 30 and 44 to 51.5 percent among participants age 45 to 64.   

But even young people aren’t moving enough. Kids and teenagers between 6 and 17 years old should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on a daily basis. This activity should be a mix of aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening activities, each which should be done at least three days a week. The latest data available, which is not included in the Gallup-Sharecare report, however suggests that only 20 percent of teens are sufficiently active.

Simple ways to get moving 
Adding exercise to your daily routine doesn’t have to be difficult. A few simple tweaks can put you among the more than 53 percent of Americans who are regularly active:

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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