Physical Inactivity

Physical activity can improve health now and in the future. People of all ages, races and ethnicities, shapes, sizes, and abilities can benefit from more physical activity. Everyone needs both aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Even short periods of physical activity can improve health.

Physical activity:

  • Helps prevent unhealthy weight gain.
  • Reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Helps reduce feelings of anxiety and improves sleep quality.
  • Improves cognitive ability and reduces risk of dementia.
  • Improves bone and musculoskeletal health.

Learn more about the Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Adults and the Health Benefits of Physical Activity for Children.

Not everyone has the same opportunity to be physically active. Many people live in neighborhoods with poor sidewalk and street infrastructure, few safe spaces for physical activity, and few destinations (including transit stops) within walking or biking distance from their home. Creating activity-friendly communities can provide safe and convenient places for people to be active. It can also support local economies by increasing retail activity and employment.

When communities are developed or redesigned to promote physical activity, community members should be involved in the planning and decision-making process. It is especially important to include people who  have been left out in the past, such as members of racial and ethnic minority groups, older adults, and people with disabilities.

CDC aims to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027 through Active People, Healthy Nation, a comprehensive initiative to promote physical activity based on strategies recommended by the Guide to Community Preventive Services.

Fast Stats

In the United States:

3 in 4 adults

ABOUT 1 IN 2
ADULTS

don’t get enough
aerobic physical activity.

teenager relaxing

77% OF
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

don’t get enough
aerobic physical activity.

money

$117
BILLION

in annual health care costs are related to low physical activity.

The Harmful Effects of Not Getting Enough Physical Activity

Heart Disease

Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease—even for people who have no other risk factors. It can also increase the likelihood of developing other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Not getting enough physical activity can raise a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Physical activity helps control blood sugar (glucose), weight, and blood pressure and helps raise “good” cholesterol and lower “bad” cholesterol. Adequate physical activity—at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week—can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage, which are often problems for people with diabetes.

Cancer

Getting the recommended amount of physical activity can lower the risk of many cancers, including cancers of the breast, colon, and uterus. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health. Moving more and sitting less have tremendous benefits for everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or current fitness level.

The Health Benefits of Physical Activity

Physical activity is one of the best things people can do for their health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition presents new findings on the benefits of regular physical activity, which include:

  • Improved sleep.
  • Increased ability to perform everyday activities.
  • Improved cognitive ability and a reduced risk of dementia.
  • Improved bone and musculoskeletal health.

Emerging research also suggests that physical activity may help our immune systems protect our bodies from infection and disease.

CDC’s Work to Increase Physical Activity

Measure Physical Activity

tablet with data on conference table

CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity uses data from national and state surveys to track levels of physical activity among adolescents and adults. Data are used to assess trends in physical activity, understand differences in populations, and help identify priority action areas.

CDC also works with partners to measure community supports for physical activity. These supports include policies and design approaches that enable safe and convenient walking, biking, wheelchair rolling, and public transportation options for people of all ages, abilities, and physical activity levels. For example, CDC measures how many communities have Complete Streets policies that are designed to improve the safety of streets for all modes of transportation. CDC also measures how many people have shops, stores, or markets near their homes and the land use policies that help make these everyday destinations more convenient.

Promote Physical Activity Through Improved Community Design

Many people want to get regular physical activity but live in communities that lack safe, convenient places to be active. CDC funds states, communities, and national organizations to create activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations that connect people from where they live to where they need to go.

These efforts include:

  • Making active transportation more feasible and attractive through land use and zoning policies that allow schools, workplaces, shops, and parks to be located closer to people’s homes.
  • Supporting Safe Routes programs that help students walk, bike, or wheelchair roll to school and older adults reach their destination without driving a car.
  • Implementing Complete Streets policies to make streets safe for people of all ages and abilities to walk, bike, wheelchair roll, or take public transit.
  • Supporting transportation planning that connects active transportation and public transit planning.

Help Students Be More Active at School

girls walking to school

Schools are in a unique position to help students get their recommended 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity. CDC Healthy Schools works with states, school systems, communities, and national partners to promote strong physical education and physical activity programs as part of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model.

CDC funds state departments of education and provides specialized tools, recommendations, and resources to help them work with local school districts and schools. The impact and reach of the school health programs developed are shared in success stories and videos.

CDC also publishes guidance for schools and parents to develop a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program including recess, physical education, classroom physical activity, and staff involvement, as well as ways to increase physical activity before, during, and after school.

Help Employees Be More Active in the Workplace

CDC’s Workplace Health Promotion Program works with employers and other partners to encourage physical activity in the workplace as part of CDC’s Workplace Health Model. CDC focuses its efforts on small and midsize employers because 99% of US employers have fewer than 500 employees. Many employers this size lack the expertise and resources to develop effective public health programs.

CDC also encourages employers to help make physical activity an easier choice for their workers. For example, they can provide on-site walking paths, discounts for local gyms, or subsidies for active commuting options. They can also support efforts to create more safe and accessible options for physical activity in the surrounding community.

Help Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk Through Lifestyle Change Programs

woman getting exercise at home

In the United States, 96 million adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes, and more than 8 in 10 of them don’t know they have it. The leading preventable risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are being overweight and not getting enough physical activity. CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) is a partnership of public and private organizations working to build a nationwide delivery system for a lifestyle change program proven to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults with prediabetes.

Participants in the National DPP lifestyle change program learn to make healthy food choices, be more physically active, and cope with stress. These changes can cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 58% (71% for those over 60).

Help People With Arthritis Reduce Pain and Increase Mobility

People with arthritis who take part in “joint-friendly” physical activity can reduce their arthritis pain and improve their function, mood, and quality of life. Examples of joint-friendly activities include walking, biking, and swimming. Being physically active can also delay arthritis disability.

Funding from CDC’s Arthritis Program allows partners to offer the following physical activity programs:

  • Active Living Everyday focuses on helping people who are sedentary become and stay physically active. About 20 people come together for 1-hour weekly sessions for 12 to 20 weeks of education and discussion to learn how to become more physically active.
  • EnhanceFitness works to increase strength, boost activity levels, and elevate mood. Certified instructors focus on stretching, flexibility, balance, low-impact aerobics, and strength training exercises.
  • Fit & Strong! focuses on sedentary older adults with lower-extremity joint pain and stiffness. It offers stretching, balance, aerobic, and endurance exercises.
  • Walk with Ease is a community-based walking program that meets three times a week for 6 weeks. Trained group exercise leaders begin each session with a pre-walk discussion covering a topic related to exercise and arthritis, followed by a 10- to 40-minute walk that includes a warm-up and cool-down period.

Help Reduce Risk of High Blood Pressure

Nearly 1 in 2 adults in the United States has high blood pressure, which raises a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke. Physical inactivity is one of the leading preventable risk factors for high blood pressure.

Million Hearts® 2022 is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes within 5 years. It focuses on a small set of priorities and targets that can improve cardiovascular health for all.

One of these targets is to reduce physical inactivity by using proven strategies where people live, learn, work, and play. These strategies include providing behavioral counseling for adults with cardiovascular risk factors and creating safe community spaces that encourage activity.

Page last reviewed: September 8, 2022