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News Release

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Contact: CDC/NCHS Press Office
(301) 458-4800

One in Five Adults Engage In High Level Of Activity, But One in Four Are Generally Inactive

HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a new report that shows about 1 in 5 American adults engage in a high level of overall physical activity, including both activity at work and during leisure time. At the other end of the spectrum, about 1 in 4 American adults engage in little or no regular physical activity.

"Physical activity -- whether it's walking the dog or simply taking the stairs at work -- is essential to good health," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "This study helps give us an even fuller picture of our physical activity status. It confirms that we need to pay more attention to getting adequate physical activity and reversing the alarming rise in obesity that we've experienced nationally during the past decade."

The report, "Physical Activity Among Adults: United States, 2000," is the first HHS report to focus on the amount of physical activity during a person's usual daily activities, including work, leisure time, or some combination of the two. The data comes from about 32,000 interviews conducted in 2000.

Other recent studies have focused exclusively on leisure time activity, including one last year that showed 7 in 10 Americans were not regularly active during their leisure time in 1997-98. Today's new report for 2000 did not find any significant change in the percentage of adults who are physically active in their leisure time.

Usual daily activity, in addition to work, includes commuting, running errands, performing household chores, or any other activities not performed during leisure time. The level of physical activity is determined by how much "moving around and lifting or carrying things" occurs during these usual daily activities.

Regular leisure time physical activity consists of exercise, sports or active hobbies that cause light sweating or a slight to moderate increase in breathing or heart rate occurring five or more times per week for at least 30 minutes each time. Regular leisure time physical activity also could include a vigorous activity that causes heavy sweating or large increases in breathing or heart rate three or more times a week for at least 20 minutes each time.

"It is important for adults to get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week to help prevent chronic diseases and promote health," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said. "Now that spring is here, there are many things that people can get out and do such as walking, gardening, playing with the kids, or other activities that they can enjoy on a regular basis."

The new report shows that 19 percent of adults engage in a high level of physical activity (defined as "very active during usual daily activities and engaged in regular leisure time physical activity"). In general, men are more likely than women to engage in a high level of overall physical activity, and these rates decline with age.

Meanwhile, another 1 in 4 adults either engage in a low level of activity (i.e. moderately active during usual daily activities and completely inactive during leisure-time) or are never active at all.

The study reports that those who are more active in their usual daily activities -- walking or lifting or carrying moderate to heavy loads -- are more likely to engage in regular physical activity in their leisure time compared to those who mostly sit, stand or lift only light loads.

The report also shows that about one half of all adults usually walk during their normal daily activities, while more than a third usually sit, and about 14 percent usually stand. Almost three-quarters of adults lift or carry light to heavy loads during their usual activities.

The report also documents physical activity among different population groups. About 15 percent of Hispanic adults of all races engage in a high level of physical activity, about the same as African American adults (14 percent) and slightly less than white adults (20 percent).

The report also indicates several of other factors are associated with physical activity:

  • Education. About 1 in 4 adults with an advanced degree engage in a high level of overall physical activity, compared to 1 in 7 of those with less than a high school diploma.
  • Income. Adults with incomes below the poverty level are three times as likely to be physically inactive as adults in the highest income group.
  • Marital Status. Married women are more likely than never married women to engage in a high level of overall physical activity.
  • Geography. Adults in the South are more likely to be physically inactive than adults in any other region.

The report is based on approximately 32,000 interviews with adults ages 18 and over, regardless of employment status from the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). "Physical Activity Among Adults: United States, 2000," is available at


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

Last Revised: May 14, 2003