Two years into a pandemic that has normalized work-from-home and moved many social gatherings online, new data from the Centers for Disease Control show that many Americans were couch potatoes long before COVID-19.
A quarter of U.S. adults aren’t active enough to protect their health, according to a CDC study conducted from 2017-2020. The agency released a map on Thursday showing that Puerto Rico and states in the South had the highest prevalence of inactivity, followed by the Midwest, Northeast and West. Colorado, Utah, Washington and Vermont were the most active states.
“Getting enough physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths,” said Ruth Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, in a statement. The health benefits include better sleep, lower blood pressure and anxiety, and reduced risk for heart disease and several cancers.
The CDC findings come from an ongoing telephone survey, called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Any exercise outside of work, from walking to golf or gardening, was considered physical activity.
The data point to notable differences in activity level by race and ethnicity. Almost a third of Hispanic adults and 30% of Black adults were physically inactive outside of work. Asian adults ranked better than the national average, with about 20% considered sedentary.
These disparities may be exacerbated by a lack of “safe and convenient” places for physical activity in some neighborhoods, according to the CDC. Recent research has shown that income, education and race are correlated with access to green space in U.S. metro areas.
The CDC is working with communities and partners across the U.S. to make it easier and safer for people to be active. The agency recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity” physical activity each week, which can be broken up into shorter sessions. Families are also encouraged to incorporate physical activities into their daily routines, such as walking the dog or cycling to run errands.