When Americans Are Inactive, This Is What They Do

When Americans Are Inactive, This Is What They Do
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The average American man and woman are considered overweight. He and she also spend about eight hours a day (roughly 55% of their waking time) being physically inactive, or sedentary. For a species that, for most of its existence, spent its time on the move, modern humans residing in the developed world are spending an awful lot of time not moving at all.

In a new study published to the journal BMC Public Health, Iowa State kinesiologists Youngwon Kim and Gregory J. Welk sought to find out how Americans spend their inactive time.

Over 1400 adults were recruited via random selection from four different Iowa communities. The sample was roughly divided fifty-fifty between men and women and participants' average age was 46. 

Once recruited, sets of subjects wore an armband monitor on one randomly selected day and then completed an in-depth interview the following day to recall the specific activities they performed. These methods were repeated for a new set of participants at least three weeks later. The process continued until all of the participants had been assessed, which ended up taking more than two years.

Participants reported an average of 7.7 sedentary hours per day, not including sleep -- very close to the national average -- with men spending slightly more time being inactive than women. The most commonly reported physical activities by frequency were eating while sitting, watching television, talking on the phone, and using a computer. Unsurprisingly, computers and televisions took up the most sedentary time in people's days. Those who reported using the computer spent an average of 138 minutes doing so, and those who reported watching television spent 129 minutes doing so.

The researchers compiled their data into a neat figure, shown below.

As all of the subjects were from Iowa, the findings of the study may not be generalizable to the rest of the U.S. population. The data was also self-reported, which is subject to the fallibilities of human memory. However, the authors reinforced their data with a sizable sample. Armband monitors were also utilized to ensure the reported data wasn't unreasonable. The authors actually eliminated 111 subjects from the final analysis because of conflicting, "problematic," data, which may have biased the results.

"These findings may have value for understanding disparities of sedentary behavior and health in the population," the researchers say.

Most notable is the immense amount of computer use. Just thirty-five years ago, spending more than two hours a day sitting in front of a computer would have been a challenge for the average American. Today, it's the norm.

Source: Youngwon Kim and Gregory J. Welk. "Characterizing the context of sedentary lifestyles in a representative sample of adults: a cross-sectional study from the physical activity measurement study project." BMC Public Health 2015 15:1218  DOI: 10.1186/s12889-015-2558-8

(Image: AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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