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January 3, 2020

Are you 'too busy' to exercise? This chart says probably not.

Daily Briefing

    Every year, many Americans set a New Year's resolution to lose weight then give it up due to time constraints—but recent research suggests Americans have more leisure time than they think, Gretchen Reynolds reports for the New York Times.

    Cheat sheets: Evidence-based medicine 101

    Study details

    For the study, published by CDC, researchers from the RAND Corporation looked at data from more than 32,000 participants in the American Time Use Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The dataset is from 2014 to 2016.

    The survey asked men and women ages 15 and older how they spent their time the previous 24 hours. The sample encompassed people from different races, ages and socioeconomic statuses, Reynolds reports.

    According to Deborah Cohen, a physician and senior scientist at RAND who oversaw the study, the researchers defined leisure time as time "involving activities that were not in some way required or compulsory." This included:

    • Exercise and recreation;
    • Extracurricular activities for students;
    • Relaxing and leisure;
    • Religious activities;
    • Socializing;
    • Sports;
    • Taking classes for personal interest;
    • Travelling for leisure; and
    • Volunteering.

    What Americans do with their leisure time

    The researchers found that nearly all of the respondents reported having about five hours of leisure time each day. Typically, men had more free time than women, and older people had more free time than younger people, the researchers found. However, none of the demographic groups reported less than around four-and-a-half hours of free time each day.

    For nearly every group, physical activity was fairly uncommon during those free time hours. Instead, the majority of people spent their free time watching television or on the computer.


    Cohen said she was "surprised at how many leisure hours people spend every day in front of screens."

    At the same time, the findings emphasize barriers to exercise, Cohen added.

    "For many people, especially women, almost all of their free time is clustered in the evening, after a day of work and chores and caring for children," she said. "They may be tired. They have no child care. There is no gym nearby or it's expensive and the parks and recreational centers are closed or do not have programming," such as exercise classes or sports leagues. As such, Cohen said, "We need to make it easier" for people to spend their free time exercising.

    Still, overall, Cohen said the takeaway is that if Americans reduce screen time, we will likely have enough free time to exercise—if we choose to do so (Reynolds, New York Times, 1/1; Cohen, Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy, 9/29/19)./p>

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