SANTA MONICA, Calif. — When confronted about neglecting physical fitness, many Americans cite their busy schedules, demanding jobs, and familial responsibilities as reasons why they can’t seem to make it to the gym on a regular basis. Simply put, many people feel they just don’t have enough time to maintain a healthy exercise schedule. Well, according to a new study conducted by the RAND Corporation, the average American actually has about five hours of free time each and every day.
So, what is really taking up all that time? You probably guessed it: Televisions, smartphones, and other electronic devices.
Men generally have a bit more free time on a day-to-day basis than women, according to the study, but incredibly, no gender or economic group is devoting even 7% of their free time on exercise or physical fitness.
“There is a general perception among the public and even public health professionals that a lack of leisure time is a major reason that Americans do not get enough physical activity,” says study co-author Dr. Deborah Cohen, a physician researcher at RAND, in a release. “But we found no evidence for those beliefs.”
Researchers used information originally collected by the American Time Use Survey, a federal initiative tracking how a representative sample of modern American families spend their time on a day-to-day basis. One family member from each included family is routinely asked to record their activities over the course of 24-hours. For the purposes of this study, data on 32,000 Americans over the age of 15 collected between 2014-2016 was analyzed.
The study’s authors were very strict regarding what they classified as free time among survey respondents. For example, activities like self-hygiene (showering, brushing teeth), grocery shopping, household chores, and child care were not classified as impeding on free time.
Even after accounting for differences in age and racial groups, researchers say that no group reported any less than 4.5 hours of free time each day. On average, men usually reported a half-hour more of free time each day than women. However, there were some significant differences among racial and ethnic groups; African American men reported roughly an hour more of free time than Caucasian males, and 1.5 hours more than Hispanic men. Similar patterns were noted among females within the same racial groups.
On average, men spent 6.6% of their free time on exercise, and women spent 5%. Interestingly, both men and women with higher incomes spent more of their free time on exercise and less time staring at screens than lower-income individuals.
“Increasing the public’s awareness of how they actually use their time and creating messages that encourage Americans to reduce their screen time may help people to become more physically active,” Dr. Cohen comments. “These findings suggest getting Americans to devote at least 20 or 30 minutes each day to physical activity is feasible.”
Regular exercise is essential for one’s health, and unfortunately many Americans aren’t taking good enough care of their bodies. An estimated 8% of deaths in the United States each year can be traced back to poor physical fitness. Furthermore, only 53% of Americans meet the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous activity per week of 150 minutes.
The study is published in the scientific journal Preventing Chronic Disease.