Lack of Time is a Lousy Excuse for Not Exercising
Most of us have the time, we just choose to spend it on, guess what…
You’ve heard it before, probably said it yourself: “I don’t have time to exercise!” That’s hooey, a new study reveals. Researchers reviewed data from an ongoing survey of 32,000 Americans 15 and older and found the average person has 5 hours of free time daily. But they choose not to carve out 20 minutes a day to meet the minimum federal guidelines for physical activity, which can be as simple as a walk in the park.
“There is a general perception among the public and even public health professionals that a lack of leisure time is a major reason that Americans do not get enough physical activity,” says Deborah Cohen, a physician and researcher at the RAND organization. “But we found no evidence for those beliefs.”
The 5 hours of free time revealed in the study seems to be truly free time, since the researchers excluded from that number activities like shopping, cooking and common household chores, personal grooming, playing with kids and taking care of others. Included in leisure time were things like entertainment, recreational and religious activities, travel, socializing and volunteering.
The largest single time sink, by far, was (no drum roll needed…) screen time — including phones and televisions, occupying people anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours a day.
Differences in the amount of free time, and how it was spent, varied notably by gender, income and ethnicity.
Among the findings:
- Men say they have 30 minutes more free time each day than women.
- Black men have roughly 1 hour more free time than white men and 1.5 hours more than Hispanic men.
- No group reported less than 4.5 hours of free time per day, on average.
- Free time spent on physical activity averages 6.6% in men and 5% in women.
- People who make more money spend a bigger chunk of their free time on physical activity and less in front of screens.
None of these groups, however, chooses to spend more than 7% of their free time on physical activity, meaning total average daily exercise time ranges from about 10 to 16 minutes.
Other research shows how these trends are in place well before adulthood. The Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that teens have on average 5 hours and 44 minutes of free time daily, but they spend 3 hours and 4 minutes of it on their smartphones and other screens—a figure that’s been steady for a decade.
Federal guidelines suggest adults get at least 2.5 hours weekly of moderate aerobic activity, such brisk walking (yeah, exercise does not have to be complicated in order to confer benefits). Most do not achieve the threshold, and meanwhile more than 40% of U.S. adults are obese, well more than double the number three decades ago. Obesity increases the risk a person will develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A study last year concluded that 8.3% of deaths in the United States are linked to lack of physical activity.
Cohen says of her group’s study, detailed in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease: “These findings suggest getting Americans to devote at least 20 or 30 minutes each day to physical activity is feasible.”
Sure. Except for the distracting nature of those screens.