More than 1 in 4 US adults over 50 do not engage in regular physical activity

Inactivity puts 31 million at risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer.

Despite the many benefits of moderate physical activity, 31 million Americans (28 percent) age 50 years and older are inactive – that is, they are not physically active beyond the basic movements needed for daily life activities. This finding comes from a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“Adults benefit from any amount of physical activity,” said Janet E. Fulton, Ph.D., chief of CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch and one of the authors of the report. “Helping inactive people become more physically active is an important step towards healthier and more vibrant communities.”

Inactivity across the US

CDC researchers analyzed data from the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) to examine patterns of inactivity among adults ages 50 and older by selected characteristics. The analysis showed:

  • Inactivity was higher for women (29.4 percent) compared with men (25.5 percent).
  • The percentage of inactivity by race and ethnicity varied: Hispanics (32.7 percent), non-Hispanic blacks (33.1 percent), non-Hispanic whites (26.2 percent), and other groups (27.1 percent).
  • Inactivity significantly increased with age: 25.4 percent for adults 50-64 years, 26.9 percent for people 65-74 years, and 35.3 percent for people 75 years and older.
  • More adults with at least one chronic disease were inactive (31.9 percent) compared with adults with no chronic disease (19.2 percent).
  • By region, inactivity was highest in the South (30.1 percent) followed by the Midwest (28.4 percent) and in the Northeast (26.6 percent). Inactivity was lowest in the West (23.1 percent).
  • By states and D.C., the percentage of inactivity ranged from 17.9 percent in Colorado to 38.8 percent in Arkansas.
  • The percentage of inactivity decreased as education increased and also increased as weight status increased.
  • “This report helps us better understand and address differences in inactivity among adults 50 years and older,” said Kathleen B. Watson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity and lead author of the report. “More work is needed to make it safer and easier for people of all ages and abilities to be physically active in their communities.”

    Helping older adults to be physically active

    Physical activity reduces the risk of premature death and can delay or prevent many chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers. As adults grow older, they are more likely to be living with a chronic disease and these diseases are major drivers of sickness and disability.

    Non-institutionalized adults ages 50 years and older account for $ 860 billion in health care costs each year; yet 4 in 5 of the most costly chronic conditions for this age group can be prevented or managed with physical activity. Non-institutionalized adults are people not living in institutions such as correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, or nursing homes and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

    Being physically active helps older adults maintain the ability to live independently and reduces the risk of falling and fracturing bones. Active older adults also have a reduced risk of moderate or severe limitations and are less likely to suffer from falls. Being physically active can also improve mental health and delay dementia and cognitive decline.

    Everyone, including federal, state, and local governments, transportation engineers and community planning professionals, and community organizations can play a role in helping communities offer design enhancements and healthy lifestyle programs to create a culture that supports physical activity.

    CDC is working with state health departments to increase physical activity by increasing the number of communities that have pedestrian and bike-friendly master transportation plans.

    CDC is committed to helping adults of all physical ability levels become or remain physically active, including those with chronic conditions such as arthritis and diabetes. CDC recommends several proven programs that can help people with chronic conditions be active and experience the benefits of physical activity despite physical limitations.

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