Here's the bad news: According to the CDC, less than 1 in 4 Americans get enough exercise.
And here's worse news: The bar that nearly eighty percent failed to clear (if you like low performance bars, you'll love government standards for exercise) was set really, really low.
Walking is considered "moderate" aerobic exercise. Jogging is considered "vigorous" aerobic exercise. Walk 150 minutes per week and you clear the aerobic hurdle. Or jog 75 minutes per week and you clear the aerobic hurdle. Then do "muscle strength exercises" twice a week and you're good to go. (Lifting weights, yoga, Bowflex, Total Gym a la Chuck Norris, pushups, sit-ups... any and all count.)
Yet only 22.9 percent of Americans meet those guidelines.
Which states ranked the worst? Here are the bottom five (ranked by the percentage of people who meet the standard):
5. Arkansas: 15.7 percent
4. Indiana: 15.1 percent
3. South Carolina: 14.8 percent
2. Kentucky: 14.6 percent
1. Mississippi: 13.5 percent
(If you're interested in the gender breakdown for women Mississippi ranked the lowest at 9.7 percent. For men, South Dakota came in last at 17.7 percent.)
That means the 85 percent or more of the residents of those states miss out on the basic health benefits of exercise: Controlling weight, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, and even improving mental health.
For example, this 20-minute exercise routine can not just make you healthier, it can improve your memory. This type of exercise will change your body most, especially as you get older. Twenty minutes of moderate exercise first thing in the morning will put you in a better mood all day.
On the other end of the spectrum, here are the top 5:
1. Colorado: 32.5 percent
2. Idaho: 31.4 percent
2. New Hampshire: 30.7 percent
4. Washington, DC: 30.7 percent (I know; it's not a state)
5. Vermont: 29.5 percent
5. Massachusetts: 29.5 percent
(Colorado women come in first at 31.5 percent; D.C. men rank first at 40.3 percent.)
Keep in mind the study only looked at "leisure time" exercise; work and commutes are not included. So certainly that impacts the results: If your job predominately requires physical labor you're a lot less likely to lift weights in your free time. The same is true if you commute by foot or bike. (Which may at least in part account for why New York falls below the average -- 6 percent of New Yorkers walk to work most days.)
So if your commute to work adds up to thirty minutes each day, you're probably meeting the CDC standard for aerobic exercise.
But if you don't meet the aerobic or strength-building standards, please make that your new goal.
And don't say you're too busy. Health and fitness aren't a luxury for successful people; health and fitness can play a major role in success. While the physical benefits clearly matter, the mental benefits -- perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness -- are just as important.
So where should you start?
- If you need to lose weight, here's how you can lose 10 pounds in 30 days. (I've done it. It works.)
- If you need a primer on strength exercises, start here: The "big four" are the perfect way to get stronger and be in better shape.
- Or if you like taking on big challenges, try someone else's workout for a week. For example, here's what happened when I worked out (and ate) like Tony Robbins for a week.
- Or if you're pressed for time, here's a 10-minute workout that science guarantees will produce results. (Do three of these per week and it's arguably just as effective as 150 minutes worth of walking.)
If none of the above sound appealing, that's okay: Just start taking regular walks with a family member or friend. You'll not only improve your health -- you'll build stronger relationships in the process.
Which may make walking the best of exercise you will ever get.