September 30, 2019
Charles Grier, 47, father of two, bikes to his job in Washington, D.C., from his northern Virginia home and back, which takes a little more than an hour a day.
Like almost a quarter of Americans, he meets the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which instructs all ages on just how much exercise people need to be healthy.
According to the guidelines, adults over age 18 need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise—or a combination of the two—every week. They should also perform strengthening exercises involving all major muscle groups two or more days a week.
In 2008, when the guidelines first came out, 18.2 percent of American adults said they met the exercise threshold for optimal health, according to the National Health Interview Survey.
Nine years later, the number of American adults who met the guidelines increased to 24.3 percent. So, how are they doing it?
“The only way I have been able to attain that level of moderate to vigorous exercise is by regularly bike commuting,” says Grier.
Daily chores can also help.
“We moved to a house that requires a chunky amount of yard work,” says Andy Mathes, a 45-year-old financial adviser from Memphis, Tenn. “And that was a purposeful replacement of the gym!” Mathes adds that nightly pingpong matches with his wife and two children, walking the dog, and two 25-pound weights he stows under his desk help keep him active.
For many, the solution to moving enough is finding a type of exercise they really enjoy. For example, Grier is also a climber. “The only strength training I’ve stuck with is rock climbing at an indoor gym,” he says.
Carlyn Robinson of Austin, Texas, has tried swimming, boot camps, spin classes, and gym memberships, but nothing worked. “I have to feel pushed while also encouraged, it has to be fun, and there has to be good music!” says the 30-year-old, who has a full-time job and a 3-year-old.
Then, she tried Jazzercise, a dance class that combines intense aerobic activity and a minimum of 20 minutes of weightlifting in an hour—and loved it. “The center offers free babysitting and class times all day, every day, so I can’t get away with ‘I have to work’ or ‘I have to take care of my kid’ or ‘I don’t have time’ impediments.”
She has a point. When exercising is enjoyable, people are more likely to do it.
“Soccer two or three times a week,” is the key for Sam Burbank, 50, a documentary filmmaker who lives in San Francisco, is in two soccer leagues (one for those 40-plus), and plays in a pickup game on Sundays. “The game motivates me to get exhausted! Otherwise, I just don’t find myself getting enough of a workout.”
There’s no magic formula—despite clear guidelines. But some Americans are paving their own ways to physical fitness.
Learn more about Americans today: Exercise