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Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is important for overall health and well-being. Among adults, physical activity can lower the risk of premature death, chronic disease, some forms of cancer, falls and associated injuries, and depression. For children and adolescents, physical activity can improve bone health, cardio-respiratory fitness and muscle strength, and reduce body fat and symptoms of depression. For people who are inactive, even small increases in physical activity are associated with health benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:
  • Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or equivalent mix of both) per week PLUS muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups on two or more days per week.
  • Children and adolescents (6-17 years of age) need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day including muscle strengthening activities at least 3 days per week.

Too few Americans are getting the recommended amount of physical activity. Only 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 high school students meet the recommended levels of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Moreover, about 31 million adults aged 50 years or older are inactive, getting no physical activity beyond that of daily living.

Physical inactivity contributes to 1 in 10 premature deaths and inadequate levels of physical activity are associated with $117 billion a year in health care costs.

Physical activity has many health benefits. These benefits apply to people of all ages and races and both sexes.
  • Physical activity lowers your risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers, osteoporosis, and depression.
  • Physical activity can lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
  • It can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
  • It helps the body manage blood sugar and insulin levels, which lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • It helps to maintain a healthy weight.
  • It improves mobility and reduces the risk for falls in older adults.
  • It can help reduce feelings of depression and improve overall mood, feelings of well-being, and cognitive functioning.
  • Bone strengthening exercise can reduce the risk of osteoporosis (weak, porous bones).
  • Physical activity can improve functioning and reduce pain for persons with osteoarthritis.

In Hawai'i in 2017, only 24.8% of adults met the recommendations for aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity and 23.5% of adults reported no leisure time physical activity. Men (29.5%) were more likely to meet physical activity recommendations than women (19.8%). Native Alaskan and American Indians were the most likely to meet recommendations (35.6%) and Chinese (14.1%) were the least likely. The proportion meeting physical activity recommendations increased with income and education and decreased with age.

Among public school students, 21.3% of middle school and 15.4% of high school students met the physical activity guidelines in 2017, but 13.6% of middle school and 19.3% of high school students got less than 60 minutes of total physical activity on all of the past 7 days. High school boys were about twice as likely as girls to meet recommendations (19.9% and 11.3%, respectively) and the proportion who met recommendations decreased by grade from 20.0% among 9th graders to 12.1% among 12th graders. Caucasians were the most likely to meet recommendations (18.9%) and other Asians were least likely (7.7%). Middle school boys were about twice as likely as girls to meet recommendations (26.9% and 13.7%, respectively) and while the proportion of boys meeting guidelines remained relatively constant by grade, it decreases by grade among girls. Native Hawaiian middle school students were the most likely to meet recommendations (24.9%) and other Asians were least likely (9.5%).

Many Americans do not have a safe or convenient place to be physically active. Less than half of the U.S. population lives within one-half mile of a park. Only 40% of school-aged youth who live a mile or less from school report that they usually walk to school.

More than 21 million U.S. adults 18-64 years have a disability and adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer than adults without disabilities and they are more likely to be inactive. Nationally, 43.0% of adults with disabilities are inactive compared to 24.3% of adults without disabilities.

Older adults are at a higher risk for inactivity and not meeting federal activity guidelines than younger adults.

The first key guideline for adults is to move more and sit less. This recommendation is based on new evidence that shows a strong relationship between increased sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and all-cause mortality. All physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous activity, can help offset these risks.

We now know that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. Americans can benefit from small amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity throughout the day. The first edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans stated that only 10-minute bouts of physical activity counted toward meeting the guidelines. The second edition removes this requirement to encourage Americans to move more frequently throughout the day as they work toward meeting the guidelines.

New evidence shows that physical activity can help manage more health conditions that Americans already have. For example, physical activity can decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, and Parkinson's disease.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) asks detailed physical activity questions among adults on odd-numbered years and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) tracks physical activity among middle and high school students.

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)

Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)