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America’s lack of physical activity more prevalent in rural areas

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Posted at 2:36 PM, Jan 27, 2023

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data on Friday indicating that most U.S. adults are not meeting physical activity guidelines set out by the CDC.

The CDC advises adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate – or 75 minutes of vigorous – physical activity a week in addition to two days of strength training. But the data show most adults aren’t getting enough of either.

The data indicate people in rural areas are more likely not to meet the guidelines. Just 16.1% of adults in rural America meet both guidelines for physical activity and muscle building. That is compared to 27.8% for people living in large metro areas.

In large and fringe metro areas, about half of all adults meet the CDC’s standard for 150 minutes of physical activity a week. In rural areas, that number declines to 38.2%.

According to Dr. Daniel Sullivan, director of the National Consultation Service with the Cleveland Clinic, the benefits of exercise are immense. Physical activity reduces the risk of many diseases. He also notes that those who exercise encounter less depression.

“This was interesting information for people who are public health advocates to improve health,” Sullivan said. “If they are looking at a rural area of their state and are involved in health care planning, this information could help them try to put resources in place in rural areas to make it more likely that they would consider getting more frequent physical activity.”

The National Rural Mental Health Association notes that rates of depression in rural and urban areas are generally about the same, but suicide rates tend to be higher in rural areas. The group also notes that access to care is more challenging for those in rural areas.

Sullivan said that given rural areas generally have fewer health care options, a less physically active population in these areas only exacerbates disparities in health outcomes.

“People have to travel further. Access to care is a little more cumbersome,” he said. “So if people are in rural areas and perhaps not meeting exercise guidelines, their disease burden could be higher, but their access to matching those diseases by virtue of being in a rural area is more challenging. There is a double challenge here.”

While many people might think of needing equipment or a gym membership to exercise, Sullivan notes the public can meet physical activity guidelines simply by walking for 30 minutes a day five days a week.

“It doesn’t cost much,” he said. “It’s accessible to virtually everyone and if someone is in a rural area and feels like their resources are limited, perhaps identifying an opportunity in their community to bring people together in that rural area to find shared interests in exercise.”