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January 8, 1996

Leisure-Time Physical Activity Among US Adults: Results From the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Health Examination Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md (Drs Crespo and Sempos); National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga (Dr Heath); and the Department of Internal Medicine and Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Mich (Dr Keteyian). Dr Crespo is now with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

Arch Intern Med. 1996;156(1):93-98. doi:10.1001/archinte.1996.00440010113015

Background:  The prevalence of no leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) among US adults is estimated to be between 24% and 30%. Such information, however, usually does not include prevalence estimates for non-Hispanic blacks, Mexican Americans, and the elderly.

Objective:  To assess the prevalence of participation in leisure-time physical activity among US adults.

Methods:  Between 1988 and 1991, 9488 adults aged 20 years and older were interviewed in their home as part of the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. A clinic examination in a mobile center was also included. Mexican Americans, non-Hispanic blacks, and the elderly were oversampled to produce reliable estimates for these groups. Questions were asked about the type and frequency of physically active hobbies, sports, and exercises.

Results:  The prevalence of no LTPA for US adults aged 20 years or older from 1988 through 1991 was 22%. The rate was higher in women (27%) than in men (17%). Mexican-American men (33%) and women (46%) and non-Hispanic black women (40%) had the highest rates of no LTPA. Participation in moderate to vigorous LTPA five or more times per week decreased with age, with the largest decreases observed among non-Hispanic black men and women. In almost all subpopulations, gardening and/or yard work and walking were stated as the two top LTPAs of choice.

Conclusions:  Many Americans are inactive or irregularly active during their leisure time. Rates of inactivity are greater for women, older persons, non-Hispanic blacks, and Mexican Americans. Intervention strategies meant to promote lifetime physical activities among all Americans represents a major health priority.(Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:93-98)

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