Americans Have a ‘Fitness Debt’ of Nearly 15 Hours per Year

Photo: Getty Images/The Good Brigade

In news that will likely come as no surprise, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people weren’t as active as they normally are, largely due to staying home as part of lockdown restrictions. Almost one-third of adults in the United States experienced decreased physical activity during this time, according to a study conducted in June 2020. It’s one of the reasons why many Americans currently have a “fitness debt” of 15 hours. And no, this doesn't mean forgetting to pay your gym membership fees.

The term, coined by Barbend, refers to the difference between how much physical activity adults should be doing according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)about 150 minutes per week or 130 hours per year—and how much they do in reality. In a survey of over 4,000 American adults, the fitness site found that, on average, they were 14.9 hours shy of the CDC’s benchmark. 

Other causes of low physical activity

The CDC says other barriers that prevent people from getting the recommended physical activity include lack of time, social support, energy, motivation, and skill, as well as fear of injury, weather conditions, and the high costs and lack of facilities. 

Furthermore, some communities don’t have the resources in place to support and encourage physical activities. "Differences in environmental supports such as sidewalks, paths, and trails that go to parks, places to relax, shops, transit stops, and libraries may explain some of the differences in rates of inactivity," according to the CDC's Physical Activity and Health Branch. "For example, adults in the South are less likely to report environmental supports for physical activity than adults in other census regions."

How to get out of fitness debt

Yes, 150 minutes of physical activity per week can feel like a lot for some people. The good news is you don't have to log it all at once. To make it more manageable, you can break it up into smaller amounts, whether that's 22 minutes every day of the week, 30 minutes five days a week, or mini workouts (aka exercise snacks) whenever possible. 

Try this 5-minute strength workout next time you want to squeeze in a sweat sesh:

And you don't have to do strenuous workouts for it to count (unless, of course, that's your thing). The CDC recommends that you mix moderate-intensity physical cardio (like power walking, for example) with two or more days per week of total-body strength training. 

Another hack for logging more active minutes is finding creative opportunities to reduce sedentary time throughout the day. Ideas the CDC's Physical Activity and Health Branch suggests include dancing, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from your destination, planning fun activities that revolve around physical activity, doing something active while watching TV, and being active with others to encourage motivation. 

So, 150 minutes of physical activity per week is the goal to shoot for, but the CDC says even if you don't hit that goal, any amount of physical activity comes with health benefits, and in turn, will help get rid of any fitness debt you may have racked up. 

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