Federal health officials want to get couch potatoes up and moving with new maps showing widespread physical inactivity across the country.
More than 15% of U.S. adults have reported being physically inactive, with state averages ranging from 17% to 47%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Washington state, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and the District of Columbia had the lowest levels of inactivity, with 15% to 20% of their populations reporting they had not engaged in physical activities such as running, walking for exercise or gardening, the CDC said.
Seven mostly Southern states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma — saw more than 30% of their adult residents reporting being physically inactive, the highest level in the CDC study.
“Too many adults are inactive, and they may not know how much it affects their health,” said Dr. Ruth Petersen, director of the CDC’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Division.
She said being physically active can reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
The new maps used combined data from the 2015-2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) — an ongoing telephone interview survey conducted by state health departments and the CDC.
The survey asked respondents: “During the past month, other than your regular job, did you participate in any physical activities or exercises such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening or walking for exercise?”
The maps show that the South had the highest level of physical inactivity, averaging 28%. The Northeast came in second at 25.6%, followed by the Midwest at 25% and the West at 20.5%.
“It’s extremely concerning and not at all surprising,” said Dr. Ethan Lazarus, president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association who runs an obesity clinic in Colorado.
“As America is getting heavier, it becomes harder and more uncomfortable to become physically active,” Dr. Lazarus said. “So I think it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
According to the CDC, the South also ranks the highest in obesity prevalence (33.6%) and the West ranks the lowest (26.9%). About 40% of Americans are obese, the CDC estimates.
In its latest study, CDC mapped physical inactivity by race and ethnicity for the first time. It found that Hispanics had the highest prevalence of physical inactivity, nearly 32%. Just over 30% of non-Hispanic blacks reported physical inactivity, while 23% of non-Hispanic whites reported inactivity.
Physical inactivity contributes to 1 in 10 premature deaths in the U.S., the CDC says. Low levels of physical activity are estimated to add $117 billion a year to health care costs.
Health experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week or 30 minutes five times a week.
However, Dr. Lazarus said it can be daunting for patients to hear how much exercise they are recommended to fit into a weekly schedule.
He suggested that people start with small steps to fit in more activity such as visiting a restroom on a different floor, getting a standing desk at the office, using a fitness tracker or walking around an office building before and after work for a few minutes.