Exercise is one of the most effective ways for people to improve their overall health. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of depression, weight gain, and certain chronic diseases, while improving cognitive function, sleep quality, and physical balance — among many other benefits.
Though the importance of physical activity is well established, over 55 million American adults lead completely sedentary lifestyles. Physical inactivity accounts for about one in every 10 premature deaths in the U.S. and also has broader social costs — presenting an estimated $117 billion burden on the health care system annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Insufficient exercise is a major public health challenge across the United States, but in some parts of the country, the problem is far worse than in others.
Using data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program, 24/7 Tempo identified the 50 least physically active counties in the United States.
The share of adults who do not exercise among the counties and county equivalents on this list ranges from nearly 40% to over 50%. Meanwhile, 22.7% of the 20 and older population nationwide lead completely sedentary lifestyles.
Given the benefits associated with regular exercise, it is perhaps not surprising that overall health outcomes tend to be worse in places where larger shares of the population are not physically active. For example, in all but one county on this list, both the obesity rate and the share of adults who report being in fair or poor health are higher than the respective national averages of 29.7% and 16.5%. Here is a look at the most obese states in America.
For many residents of the counties on this list, a lack of regular physical exercise is partially attributable to limited opportunities. In each of the 50 least active U.S. counties, the share of the population living in close proximity to places to exercise, like parks or recreational facilities, is below the 84.2% national average. In the majority of these counties, less than half the population have access to such places.