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  • JAMA: Americans Aren't Any More Physically Active Than in 2007—And They're Increasingly Sedentary

    Here's some news you shouldn't take sitting down: since the release of national physical activity (PA) guidelines in 2008, Americans haven't really made a dent in improving PA rates, while "significantly" increasing the amount of time spent on sedentary behavior. Those findings were the major revelations from a first-of-its-kind study that factored work, leisure-time, and transportation-related PA (most PA studies have focused on leisure-time activity only).

    The study, published in JAMA Network Open, analyzed results from 27,343 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2007 to 2016. Researchers wanted to find out what percentage of Americans met the US Department of Health and Human Services' activity guidelines, and how that rate may have changed since the release of the guidelines in 2008. Those guidelines, updated in 2018, recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity PA or 75 minutes of vigorous PA (or an equivalent combination of both).

    What they found wasn't encouraging. Over the 10-year study period, the percentage of Americans who reported meeting the PA guidelines remained nearly flat—from 63.2% in 2007-2008 to 65.2% in 2015-2016.

    Even worse, researchers noted a significant increase in sedentary behavior over the same time period, from 5.7 hours per day in 2007-2008 to 6.4 hours per day in 2015-2016. The increase was recorded in nearly every demographic subgroup in the study, and was highest among individuals with college-or-higher educations and individuals who are obese.

    There were a few bright spots in the findings. The guideline-adherence rates for non-Hispanic black individuals rose by nearly 10 percentage points, from 52.7% to 62.6%. Other groups that recorded notable improvements included Americans 65 and older (44.3% to 49.1%), women (55.3% to 59%), current smokers (63.9% to 68.4%), and individuals with obesity (55.4% to 61.5%).

    Generally, however, there was more bad news than good. Not only did PA guideline adherence remain static overall, it actually declined, albeit slightly, for some groups including individuals 50-64 (61.3% to 60.4%) and those who are overweight (66.8% to 65.4%). The decline was most steep among individuals with less than a high school education, whose rates dropped from 53.3% in 2007-2008 to 49.4% in 2016-2017.

    Making matters worse, of course, was the rise in sedentary behavior, which was particularly notable among individuals 40-49 (from 5.4 hours to 6.2 hours), non-Hispanic whites (5.9 to 6.6), Americans with a college degree or above (5.8 to 6.5), people with obesity (5.8 to 6.4), and individuals with family income less than 1.31 times the poverty level (5.3 to 6).

    "Both insufficient [PA] and prolonged sedentary time are associated with a high risk of adverse health outcomes, including chronic diseases and mortality," authors write. "Our findings highlight a critical need for future public health efforts to aim for not only an increase in [PA] but also a reduction in sedentary time."

    APTA is a strong supporter of the HHS guidelines and the importance of PA. The association's prevention and wellness webpage provides resources on how physical therapists and physical therapist assistants can help individuals become more physically active. Additionally, the association's Council on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Wellness connects members interested in physical therapy's role in improving health. APTA is also an organizational partner in the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance and has a seat on its board of directors; the association also has a representative on the board of the National Coalition for the Promotion of Physical Activity.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.


    • Thank you for the article. I am a prospective PTA/PT student. Finishing undergrad soon. I find it interesting, the stats shown here. I had no idea it was a backwards trend. I thought it would have been the other way around. I guess that does mean good news for our field however...

      Posted by Nick Parker on 8/7/2019 10:21 PM

    • Currently seeing a PT, and would like to keep updated.

      Posted by Terry on 8/7/2019 10:24 PM

    • Interesting article. I have had conversations with people who assume we are getting more fit as a population due to the growing number of gyms, gym memberships and people using digital activity trackers. I was skeptical, and this study confirms my skepticism.

      Posted by Nancy Uschold on 8/8/2019 11:03 AM

    • Perfect timing for PT to get out to the community and show we have the skills to evaluate ,suggest , monitor and progress wellness and community exercise programs. We also have the motivational skills to make a difference. Helping people be able to do the right activities and the right amount is a skill we have as the only members of the medical team. Let’s us do something. And not bemoan a missed opportunity

      Posted by Carole Lewis on 8/8/2019 3:49 PM

    • Many pursuits that are "good for the economy" reduce physical activity. I never imagined the amount of sedentary time required to research and manage health insurance and retirement savings, attend medical appointments, maintain and reset passwords and accounts, deal with data breaches, maintain computer security (including prolonged waits during customer service chats), read and respond to email, and fulfill professional regulatory requirements. Commute times are increasing, especially for those unable to afford housing close to their employment. Streamed entertainment is readily available and binge watching has been "normalized" by the media. Add the increased voluntary activity of driving to a restaurant, waiting, overeating and driving home, and it is easy to explain the numbers.

      Posted by Denise Drazy-Shedd on 8/8/2019 6:29 PM

    • We should learn something from the dental association after World War II they partnered with school systems sent hygienists and Dentists into classrooms teach dental health they made tremendous inroads in eradicating tooth decay . Why not develop programs for health posture fitness and back hygiene

      Posted by Stephen Bassin on 8/10/2019 11:17 AM

    • We have 8-10 Parkinson’s Exercise programs run by PHYSICAL THERAPISTS for the clients with the disease to get better. They are mostly at YMCAs. It is based using the treadmills in all directions. Medicare does not pay for this program BUT we would like them to contribute. Use the website listed above. Thanks Terry

      Posted by Terry Steffen on 8/11/2019 12:35 PM

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