A new government report says seven in 10 adults don't regularly exercise and nearly four in 10 aren't physically active at all.
And despite repeated warnings about the link between a sedentary lifestyle and heart disease and diabetes, the figures haven't budged from 1997 to 2001.
The National Center for Health Statistics released the report Sunday to mark World Health Day as officials prodded Americans to do something — anything — to become more active.
"Good health is literally a walk away," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who planned a 10-mile (16-kilometer) run to mark the day. "You don't have to work up a big sweat at the gym or become a long-distance runner."
The report found only three in 10 adults were regularly physically active — defined as a half-hour of light to moderate exercise five times a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week.
The study showed 38 percent reported no such physical activity at all.
The study was based on household interviews with 68,000 American adults in 1997 and 1998, the latest year for which complete data are available. Preliminary data for 2001 show virtually no change, the national center said.
The findings are particularly bleak in light of an alarming rise in diabetes, especially among Americans in their 30s. The blood-sugar disease is closely tied to obesity.
About 300,000 people a year in the United States die from diseases related to inactivity. In addition to diabetes, lack of exercise can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new booklet for local leaders, exhorting them to motivate communities to become more active.
"People can take the stairs instead of the elevator, or even park the car farther away at the grocery store," said Dr. David Fleming, the CDC's acting director.
The new report also provides a glimpse into some of the factors that may influence how active a person is, and shows demographic groups that need improvement.
For example, adults who make four times the poverty level are twice as likely to exercise than poor adults. The poverty level for single adults is just under $9,000.
Adults with better educations also tend to exercise more.
Married people, both men and women, were more likely than singles to be active. Single adults are more likely to prefer body-strengthening activities, like lifting weights or calisthenics.
About two-thirds of whites exercise at least some of the time, compared with only half of black and Hispanic adults, the report found.
The South trailed other regions in physical activity. The West led the nation with about two-thirds of adults getting some exercise, compared with just over half of Southerners.
by ERIN McCLAM