Obesity has been considered an epidemic in the United States for years. The share of adults considered obese has been steadily increasing, reaching almost 40% in 2016, up from just 15% in 1990. While some factors that contribute to the condition are out of a person’s control, such as genetics, others, such as leading an active lifestyle, can be improved by personal choice.
Not even a third of American adults exercise on a regular basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just about 23% meet the federal guidelines for aerobic activity and strength training. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate to intense exercise — about 20 to 40 minutes a day.
To determine the metropolitan area in each state where residents are getting the least exercise, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the 2019 County Health Rankings on adults who are physically active and the percentage of the population with access to a location appropriate for exercise.
About 22.0% of Americans report that they do not get any physical activity in their leisure time, according to the Country Health Ranking. But exercising trends vary considerably across the country. In some states, even in their least active city, a higher share of adults get exercise than the average share nationwide. (Nationwide, these are the 50 cities where people exercise the most.)
Exercise has been shown to be a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy weight as it helps lose body fat and build muscle tissue. Physical activity is also linked to better quality of life as well as living longer. Some research shows that even just 15 minutes a day provide benefits, including lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some common types of cancer.
The cities where a significant share of the population reports no leisure physical activity are not evenly distributed across the United States — 11 of the top 15 states where most people are not exercising are in the South. Mississippi and Arkansas are the two states in which adults exercised the least — more than 30% of adults in each state get no physical activity.
The state in which adults exercise the most is Colorado. The percentage of adults who don’t exercise in Oregon, Utah, Washington, and California — all Western states — is also significantly lower than the U.S. average. The share of sedentary adults in each of those states is less than 15%.
Consistent lack of exercise plays a role in certain unhealthy outcomes. Of the 15 states where adults get the least exercise, 12 are also among the states with the highest adult obesity rate, and 11 rank among the 15 states where the highest share of adults report being in fair or poor health.
To identify the cities getting the least exercise, 24/7 Tempo created an index of two measures: the share of adults in a metro area who are not exercising during their leisure time, and the share of the population who doesn’t live reasonably close to a location for physical activity. Information on leisure time physical activity, access to exercise locations, obesity rate, and adults who report being in fair or poor health comes from the 2019 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Population figures come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.