U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Physical Activity

Regular physical activity promotes health, psychological well-being, and a healthy body weight; enhances independent living; and improves one’s quality of life. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states that for substantial health benefits, women should engage in at least 2½ hours per week of moderate-intensity or 1¼ hours per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.1 Prior to these guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, recommended that adults engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity at work or home on most, or preferably all, days of the week.2

In 2007, only 10.0 percent of women reported participating in adequate physical activity (defined as engaging in physical activity of moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes per day on a minimum of 5 days per week or vigorous-intensity activity for at least 20 minutes per day for a minimum of 3 days per week). The percentage of women reporting regular physical activity varied by race/ethnicity, age, and income.

In 2007, non-Hispanic White women were more likely than women of other races and ethnicities to report adequate physical activity (11.6 percent). Hispanic women were least likely to report adequate physical activity (5.8 percent).

Among women in all income groups, rates of adequate physical activity peak during the ages of 25–44 years and decline as women grow older. In addition, among women aged 25 years and older, those with higher incomes are more likely to engage in adequate physical activity than those with lower incomes. In 2007, the women most likely to do so were those aged 25–44 years with incomes of 200 percent or more of poverty (17.4 percent), compared to 13.8 percent of women in the same age group with incomes of 100–199 percent of poverty and 11.4 percent of those with incomes less than 100 percent of poverty.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. October 2008.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.

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