Exercising is more common these days for most Americans, but they are still not exercising as much as they should to maintain a healthy life, according to researchers.
Geoffrey Godbey, professor emeritus of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State and John Robinson , professor of sociology at University of Maryland , analyzed data from the American Time Use Study made by the U.S government.
The data was obtained by the U.S. Census Bureau and they used a diary method, in which thousands of people write their daily activities on a 24 hour period.
“Since the 1960s, people exercise three times as much as we first reported in 1965. More people are exercising, but it’s still not enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Robinson said.
The researchers found out that Americans spend two hours each week doing sports and fitness activities. The most common activity was walking and about 5 percent of Americans walk 53 minutes on an average day.
The second most frequent activity is swimming or water activity which 1.6 percent of the population is doing on a given day, Godbey said. As for the physically active sports, basketball was more common than football, soccer, baseball and hockey.
Basketball is very popular among Americans because they don’t need many people to play and they can practice anywhere, Robinson said.
Even if it’s walking or playing basketball, it’s still not enough for the daily activity needs humans have. Americans exercise more today than 20 years ago but obesity rates are still increasing, Godbey said.
“America is the fattest country in the world,” Godbey said. He thinks that obesity is common because of the fast food consumption and soft drinks.
“The average soft drink when I was a kid was six ounces when you bought a bottle of Coca Cola. Today regular size Coca Cola is 20 ounces and it’s considered normal,” he said. “People assume that physical activity is helpful in reducing obesity. But the economy has changed and there are fewer people that work in physically active jobs. The percentage of people in manufacturing and agriculture jobs has declined.”
Another factor that researchers found that contributes to less activity is the fact that doing household chores is easier these days.
“Household work is much less physically demanding. People don’t wash dishes by hand, they don’t use brooms and they don’t hang clothing on the line to dry. They use machines to do most of the functions that used to be done by them,” Godbey said.
Jill Garrigan, Penn State fitness coordinator , said that sometimes people don’t exercise because they don’t have time.
“People will probably exercise more if the consequences were more immediate,” she said.
The Penn State community shows that students do have exercising habits comparable to what the statistics show.
“The university has a very active student population and they exercise because they have access to it and it’s cheap,” Garrigan said.
On campus, the club sports program offers many opportunities to exercise and the most common clubs are tennis, cross country and roller hockey, said Thomas Otterbine, club sports program coordinator.
“Penn State is a really healthy campus. Students walk everywhere and they also do lines to attend fitness classes,” Otterbine said.
Weather has a direct correlation to exercise, Garrigan said.
“Right now is when the students are developing their habits and we are contributing to that with a friendly environment. In Spring 2011, we had sixty thousand visits,” Garrigan said.
Besides fitness and club sports there’s the intramural program, which is considered one of the largest programs in the country. The program has contests and tournaments and students don’t have to devote their life to the activity, Godbey said.
The intramural program offers 25 activities during the year and the program has been on campus for many years. The program is so popular that it attracts close to 400 teams in teams sports and sometimes there’s no space for them, Tom Lovins, director of recreation sports, said.
“A lot of our students come with a sports and recreation background. There’s a desire to play for Penn State and this is an opportunity to be on a field of completion with their friends,” Lovins said.
The researchers also found that on average males participate in more activities than females. More females swim and walk than males, but in cardio work there’s no gender difference, according to the study. Also, in most team sports and most outdoor recreation, there’s more male participants, Godbey said.
That gender difference between the different activities is also common in Penn State. Thomas Otterbine said that not many females join club sports but they are still trying to get more participants by providing certain benefits to them.
In the fitness classes, almost 90 percent are females, and in the weight room, there’s more males. But in the cardio room, there’s a balanced mix of participants, Garrigan said.