Only about 20% of U.S. adults — or 1 in 5 — are meeting both the aerobic and muscle strengthening components of the federal government’s physical activity recommendations, according to the CDC.

Nationwide, 51.6% met the aerobic activity guideline and 29.3% of U.S. adults met the muscle-strengthening guideline, with substantial variation by state, sex, education level and BMI, Carmen D. Harris, MPH, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s physical activity and health branch, and colleagues reported in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“This is a great foundation to build upon, but there is still much work to do. Improving access to safe and convenient places where people can be physically active can help make the active choice the easy choice,” Harris said in a press release.

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Colorado was home to the highest proportion of adults who met both exercise guidelines, at 27%, compared to just 13% in Tennessee and West Virginia. Overall, the Western and Northeastern regions ranked highest in physical fitness, with 24% and 21% of residents meeting both aerobic and strength training exercise requirements, respectively.

Overall, women, Hispanics, older adults and obese adults were all less likely to meet the guidelines.

Current exercise guidelines state adults should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like walking, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobics, such as jogging, per week. In order for an exercise to be considered aerobic, it must be performed for 10 minutes or more per episode.

Muscle strengthening exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups, or activities using resistance bands or weights, should be done two or more days per week and should involve all muscle groups.

To determine the physical fitness of the nation, Harris and colleagues analzyed self-reported data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual phone survey of adults aged 18 and older conducted by state health departments. Responses from more than 450,000 participants were included in the analysis. 

By sex, 23.4% of men and 17.9% of women fulfilled both aerobic and strength training exercise requirements, the researchers found.

Among racial/ethnic groups, fewer Hispanic adults (18.4%) met both guideline requirements than whites (20.7%) and non-Hispanic blacks (21.2%; P<0.001 for all).

The likelihood of getting enough exercise aslo correlating with education level, with college graduates reporting the highest exercise prevalence at 27.4% and people with less than a high school diploma reporting the lowest prevalence at 12%.

By BMI, exercise prevalence was lower for obese persons (13.5%) than for overweight (21.9%) and underweight/normal weight participants (25.8%).

“Additional research is needed to determine the reasons for differences in the proportion of adults who meet aerobic activity guidelines and muscle-strengthening guidelines,” the researchers wrote, adding that state by state variations may be attributable to differences in demographic distribution.

The CDC currently funds 25 states and offers Community Transformation Grants to address nutrition, physical activity, obesity and other chronic diseases, and improve communities so people can more easily fit physical activity into their lives, the agency said.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013: 62(17);326-330.