Run Your Eyes Over This, If It’s Not Too Strenuous for You

Walk through a clothing store and you’ll see rack after rack of “activewear,” all tailored to accommodate vigorous motion. Like off-road vehicles that never leave the pavement, much of this apparel is doomed to spend its life on the bodies of people who do nothing more active than walk to the refrigerator. If consumers faced the truth about how they spend their time, clothiers would prosper by selling sedentarywear. A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics documents just how inert people have become. Analyzing data amassed in 1997-98, the report finds 38.3 percent of adults “physically inactive” in their leisure time. Women (40.9 percent) are a bit worse than men (35.4 percent) in this respect. To a degree, this flurry of inactivity reflects the upward age skew of the population, with older folks understandably less active than younger ones. Even among 18-24-year-olds, though, 30.4 percent are physically inactive in their leisure time, as are 33.3 percent of the 25-44-year-olds. (One obvious caveat: People who are inactive in their leisure hours may be highly active at work. Lumberjacks needn’t take woodland hikes on their days off.) Notwithstanding the stereotypes of the semi-literate jock and the unphysical egghead, 21.8 percent of those with an advanced degree fall into the inactive ranks, vs. 43.3 percent of those who just have a high-school diploma. Do people let themselves go to seed once they’ve married? Actually, 37.5 percent of married adults are inactive, vs. 41.1 percent of those who are cohabiting. On the other end of the spectrum, 11.6 percent of adults engage in “vigorous” leisure-time physical activity at least five times per week—men more so than women (14.3 percent vs. 9.2 percent). As you’d expect, this cohort also skews young, with 18-24-year-olds the most likely to display such vigor (17.4 percent). But there’s surprisingly little falloff between the 25-44-year-olds (12.6 percent) and the 45-64s (11.0 percent).