Avoid becoming a statistic in this escalating health epidemic

By Physician Sense
Published January 27, 2020

Key Takeaways

If you aren’t already asking your patients about their current levels of physical activity, well, you might want to. A new report published by the CDC this week paints a bleak portrait. Among all states and territories, more than 15% of adults are physically inactive. 

The findings come from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system, which is an ongoing phone survey carried out by the CDC, in conjunction with state health departments. The phone survey asks participants to self-report physical activity in the past month. This CDC report includes all participants who self-reported no physical activity.

The most recent report includes data from 2015-2018. The percentage of inactive adults in U.S. states and territories ranged from 17.3-47.7%, the CDC says.

Percentages of inactive adults might actually be higher because, let’s face it, nobody wants to admit to doing nothing. There’s also a potential conclusion to be drawn from the most active states (Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Oregon). Visit any of these places, and you’ll notice ample outdoor recreation space, beautiful national parks, and people who seem to take advantage of both. Many of America’s healthiest communities also meet these criteria. 

The health benefits of getting outdoors are well-documented. One recent study shows that just two hours of outdoor activity a week are enough to make people feel that they are in good physical and mental health. Another recent study shows that outdoor exercise also has a calming effect that’s hard to get with a gym-bound routine. This might be because outdoor activity, particularly in a beautiful setting, feels more like a reward, whereas a gym workout for a reluctant person feels more like punishment. When counseling inactive patients, doctors might get more mileage out of encouraging outdoor recreation.

We know what you’re thinking: My state isn’t exactly as scenic as Colorado or Oregon. But there are beautiful settings in every state. Here are some ideas for the 7 most inactive ones:

  1. Tennessee: Home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Hiking the park’s many trails is a great way to get moving. The Alum Cave hike is a local favorite. It’s 4 miles round-trip and has an elevation change of 1,100 feet. New hikers can shorten the trip as necessary, working their way up to the full sojourn. Beautiful vistas abound.

  2. Oklahoma: The Lower Mountain Fork River provides myriad opportunities to take to the water. Don’t worry: It doesn’t have to be a white-water adventure. You can get your feet wet by simply renting a canoe and doing some paddling out on river to work those upper body muscles and the cardiovascular system. 

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