In this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!
How much have you exercised this week? If you’re an average American, you can claim about two hours — which isn’t bad! After all, it’s almost three times as much physical activity than was typical forty years ago. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we need to be getting physical more than we typically do — at least 2.5 hours a week of “moderate” exercise (walking, golf, fishing, bowling) plus an hour and fifteen minutes of “vigorous” training (running, muscle strengthening) every week. And, lest you’ve forgotten, the U.S. is still “the fattest country in the world,” according to Penn State professor Geoffrey Godbey.
Godbey teamed up with University of Maryland professor John Robinson to see just how much exercise we’re getting as a nation by looking at data from the American Time Use Survey. They not only looked at how much Americans are moving, but also what our preferred activities are. The answer? Television. “We are almost addicted to television and computers. Americans ages 18 to 64 average more than 35 hours of free time each week, but they spend half of it watching television,” Godbey says. When we do move our bodies, the most common activity is walking. On an average day, about 5 percent of Americans will go for a walk, for an average time of 53 minutes. The nation’s most popular team sport is basketball, followed by football, soccer, baseball, volleyball, and hockey.
But while teenagers are spending a respectable amount of time on fitness (41 minutes a day), their older counterparts are sadly lacking. The average time spent on fitness activities per day for those 18-64 is a paltry 17 minutes; for those over 65, it’s only 13 minutes. Part of this may be because teens are much more likely to participate in team sports — and team sports take up more time than solo activities, such as walking or running. “Among older adults, team sports are almost invisible in terms of daily time use, with only one in 500 people playing baseball or football, and one in 60 people playing basketball on a given day,” Godbey says. The one exception: seniors go bowling just as often as their younger counterparts. So there’s room for hope after all.