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Where are the Least Active Areas in the U.S.?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There are times when I feel like I should be living somewhere else. As a runner, I've gotten strange looks from neighbors over the years who think I'm crazy for running in the rain or running while 8 months pregnant. Where I live in the suburbs, I wouldn't say that regular physical activity is the norm. Unfortunately, it's probably the exception.

I've always been aware of this in my hometown, but became even more aware when I moved away. My husband and I moved to Memphis, Tennessee for three years. If I felt like the exception at home, in Memphis I felt even stranger. I lived and worked with so many people who had never exercised a day in their lives. The fact that I was training for marathons and getting up at 4:30 a.m. to work out each day made me quite an anomaly. Of course, there were others like me. But the general culture was one of good, Southern eating (fried foods, lots of yummy desserts) and not much exercise. That's why I wasn't surprised to read that Tennessee residents were some of the least likely in the nation to be active.

Don't get me wrong- I met some wonderful people during my time in Memphis, I learned a lot about myself and wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I worked at a YMCA, and every day was able to help someone new start on a path to a healthier lifestyle. It was a very fulfilling feeling. But it was difficult to ignore the toll obesity was taking on the health of many Memphis residents.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29% of adults in parts of Appalachia and the South reported getting no physical activity other than their job. Coincidentally, these areas have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity.

The West Coast, Colorado and parts of the Northeast reported the highest levels of leisure-time physical activity among adults. Sometimes I think thatís where I'm meant to be- where running, walking or spending time exercising outside are a typical part of most people's days.

How do you begin to change the mentality of residents in these sedentary areas? How do you start making an active and healthy lifestyle the norm instead of the exception? If you live in one of these areas, are you seeing any shift in thinking?

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I live in Colorado so I am used to seeing my neighbors and myself being active. We have started spending more time in Florida during the winter and it is amazing to see there really is a pronounced physical size difference between us and the people of Florida. We are skinny. The city where we live in FL does not really provide ways to walk or bike anywhere. We have to drive to a park to walk and we have to haul our bikes to a bike path. Where we live in Colorado we can just step outside our home to walk or hop on our bikes in the garage to pedal over to wherever we want to go. I can even ride my bike 1 block to a bus stop and get to another city. I am sure not going to take my Colorado life style for granted anymore! Report
I live in Washington State, which is very much an outdoors adventure state. Everyone goes skiing, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, etc. etc.

My parents had to move to Alabama for work, and my dad said he doesn't exercise as much down there. He likes to jog, but said that the heat and humidity in the summer deter him from exercising outdoors. He gained a bunch of weight during his first year and a half there, and is now trying to lose it. People always talk about the fried foods down there, but it's also the weather (at least in Dad's case). Guess he'll have to learn to exercise indoors with an A/C. Report
I live in the midwest in Missouri in a town called Raymore. I always see a lot of people out getting their exercise in my town especially in my neighborhood. Out of all the cities I have lived in around this area this is the most active. Consequently the schools are serving healthier lunches than most. They also limit the amount of junk food you can bring in to pass out to others. If a child has a birthday and wants to bring in snacks they have to be on the approved list. Children are also encouraged by teachers to bring in healthy snacks to eat instead of unhealthy ones. Report
I live in Kingman AZ and to be honest with you--I know there are many obese people here (including myself) and I can't find anyone to get up off their tush and walk with me. There are a few people I see walking but very few. I'm out west where the weather is great. Report
I guess I'm pretty lucky. I live in a western state that has lots of outdoor activities such as snowboarding and skiing. We also have places to do other outdoor things in the summer, spring and fall. I live in a city where I see people out walking and running everyday and I've been taking a walk most days as well. It's a very pretty area. I work in healthcare, and had a boss tell me once that if we tell our patients how to live we should be doing the same. I agree 100%. Unfornuately that doesn't always happen. But we can't control others, only ourselves and encourage others to be as active and healthy as possible while being role-models to them. Report
I live in SE Ohio and I agree there are quite a few people who are "handicapped" due to their weight. Diabetes is a common occurancce. My DH and I work out at the Y twice a week and also do a lot of physical activity at home. We do have great places to walk and bike. The same few seem to be the "usual" participants. Report
I live in SC and must agree that this blog is just too true of the area in which I reside, with one big exception--the retirees. Maybe because with age comes wisdom or maybe they had a heath crisis for which a physical therapist got them exercising--but I see many Southern seniors out walking and biking. The sad part is how many others died young or are disabled and home bound before they ever got a chance to get on the exercise/healthy eating bandwagon? Truly, the young here don't seem to grasp the importance of healthy living. Yes, and men don't seem to get it either--most of the senior exercisers are women--maybe their men are already dead? Report
i have found i can make an excuse to, or not to, exercise, wherever i live- and i have people/friends/cp-workers who either agree with the healthy lifestyle choices i try to make, or not...but i always think, when i visit friends in FL etc., that i would SO want to be outside and doing more all the time- that kind of weather just makes me feel happier and more motivated...snow, cold and rain, not so much...;-) Report
I am lucky, I guess. I live in a college town who has a wonderful track and cross-country team; our high school does as well. These students are always out running and I think they help the adults keep motivated as well. Report
I lived in my husbands home state of Montana for a while. Even though there are things that I did outside in the winter I find myself more active in Southern California. We do have rain where I live, but the weather is hardly bad enoough from not being outside. We have snow in are local mountains if we want to do snow activities also. Near my house there are place that encouage exercise like bike paths, and hiking trails. Plus there are gym memberships locally and classes through park and recreation. The sun encourages me to be outside. If I find I get down the sun helps. I think the weather plays a big part of being active. I just got back from Hawaii on Tuesday and I felt happy to be exercising snorkeling, swimming, hiking, etc. I think that is one reason there is so many snowbirds. Report
I lived in Memphis for one year back in the early 80's. I lifted weights, ran and swam with the MSU swim team! What a privilege that was. I don't remember anyone thinking it was weird, but I do know that most people I worked with did not exercise much, and they were 5-6 years younger than me. Report
I live in a suburb of Minneapolis and the Twin Cities are known for being active in spite of our cold winters. I ran a 5k with my husband on January 1 and it was 7 F at the starting timeof 11 AM. Crazy but fun. We have a lot of lakes, trails, and parks. My city has a great community center that has reasonable membership prices and sponsers a 5k/10k run every May. Report
I live in a suburb of Kansas City that seems very health conscious. I always encounter at least 5-10 people out walking, jogging, biking when I run in the middle of the day when it is decent weather. It's like people can't wait to get outside. There are diehard dogwalkers who slog through the snow and rain, though. I imagine during bad weather the exercise crowd is like me, doing a DVD in the house or going to the gym. Report
I'm going to stick up for the author of the article here. I don't think this was negative. Some of the heartiest agreement came from those who live down here. I think some of us get tired of explaining ourselves to our friends and maybe this article hit a nerve... it hit mine. I think attitudes are improving. Spreads at tailgate and office parties are getting healthier. As far as the study goes, the one thing I question is how much traditional "southern fried food" is really part of the problem. My experience is that takes a good bit of preparation and clean up. Sometimes I think the problem is the short cut processed stuff in bags in the frozen food aisle. Report
I live in northern Indiana where the weather is cold and nasty 6 months of the year and I am not motivated to go outside and exercise and see very few people outside in the winter. I try to do walking DVD but am not that motivated. would rather just hibernate until the sun comes out and the weather warms up.
I can understand the problem in the South in the summer with the heat so it would be much harder to get out in the summer but should be nicer in the winter to get outside.
I think it is more of a culture thing where people are used to sitting around more and enjoying all the good foods that we have to give up to lose weight and improve health.
There are many sedentary in all parts of the country and many exercisers too. you just have to find those with similar interests. It is nice when cities try to make bike paths and walking trails but many areas do not have the money to do so.
To those that disagree with this blog you do not have to be so nasty... just say you disagree or go read something else that you agree with.. We all have different opinions on any subject. Report
I agree with ~CORAL~. Sparkpeople is supposed to be about motivating people to reach goals with their health and empower them to do so. This blog did neither of those things. I do not even understand why one that is basically bashing an entire portion of the US allowed on here. I live in the South and am active along with MANY others I know; that is not why I am annoyed by this, however. You being able to blast your opinion of where you should live is allowed as a DailySpark blog is frustrating. Let's seek to ENCOURAGE not discourage.Keep your opinions on your own page. Report
When I was walking outside I got really strange looks as well. But I live out in the counrty and the roads aren't really made for walking. As a matter of fact after almost getting hit by a tractor trailer truck I joined a gym. Report
I lived in Spearfish, SD for 3 years and I was never so active in my life as I was there. Everyone is outside all of the time biking, hiking or just enjoying the park. A great place! :) Report
I live in Colorado, and I can testify that this is a very healthy culture, especially along the front range cities and communities. Even on days that aren't very nice weather-wise, there are many, many people out and about. We have a 24-hour Fitness gym nearby (my gym as well), and last night at 11pm (a Tuesday), the parking lot was still crowded! It makes it much easier to keep a healthy lifestyle when there are role models all around. Report
I think the economic factor comes into play here, rather than the weather. This CDC reasoning needs more work, better questions of the participants, more exact pin pointing of where the respondents live, work, etc. Some of it sounds like just rationalization, and I wonder how much was paid to come to the conclusions, so the CDC can keep itself going? They don't want to get laid off either. Too many of these survey/research theories are not done well at all. Yet the media and magazines make a big deal out of them, not enough actual reporters to go out and check it out, rather sit in an office and look up stuff on the pc. Report
Doesn't the age of residents make a difference? Younger working people can afford the gyms and are more apt to exercise.

BTW, did you ever notice the people who make snide remarks have their Spark Page inaccessible??? Report
Glad I'm not the only one getting the crazy looks from their neighbors! I live in MD and I think it really depends on your neighborhood around here, but mine isn't active. I lived in DC and walked everywhere, lost the weight just by going where I had to. :) Report
A couple of months after I retired, I lived above a bar. One morning I went downstairs and asked my landlady to hold my keys for me while I went out for a run. After a 3 mile run, I came in soaking went, from a downpour, She looked at me and said, "you know you don't have to do that any more. I just smiled and said, I know. Report
Good article, food for thought! Report
I liked the article. The weather is a big part of the motivation to work out for many people. People who live in the colder areas don't spend too much time outside. I lived in the Midwest, on the West Coast and in the South. I do enjoy working out and do notice that people spend more time outside in warmer areas.

I know we have all these exercise DVD programs available but it isn't the same. Still it shouldn't be used as an excuse not to take care of ourselves even if that means resorting to an exercise DVD during worse weather. Report
NJ_HOU, if you don't like the article, just say so! No need to be so nasty!

We live in the suburbs of a small city in Ohio and have to drive to get to any biking, hiking, or walking trails. I don't really mind the driving, it's the price of gas now and the summer will probably be worse. We walk in our neighborhood and at the local high school track, and also the dreaded treadmill on bad weather days. But, I don't think that our area is that much different than other states. We do have cold, snow and ice in the winter, so that doesn't help with getting outside. Report
I'm from Illinois and have spent most of my life here, but when I lived in California for 6 months, I was floored by the special bike lanes, walking paths, etc that were all over the place for more active people. Here in Illinois, I'm lucky to find a sidewalk to walk on for the 3/4 mile walk between my colleges. I'm moving back to California in May and am so looking forward to taking my place as a bicycling commuter. :-D Report
I'm from south Louisiana and we love to eat and party, and that's about it! lol Report
I live in "The Fattest City in America", Corpus Christi, Tx.

'nuff said. Report
I've lived in North Carolina for a while and it gets extremely humid and yucky in Charlotte during the warmer months (May-September). That's a good chunk of the year. I do outdoor activities in fall/winter and indoor ones in late spring/summer. But I can only imagine how nasty it is in the warmer parts of the South. Report
I agree with UMDAWG04 wholeheartedly. I live near Portland, OR and we are very active here, but I must say that reinforcing the negative aspect of "laziest" states or areas does absolutely nothing to motivate a population to change. There are certainly active people in all areas of the U.S. but if these studies lump everyone together and call them lazy, then I think it turns out to be a self-fulfulling prophecy of sorts. Report
Lots of people in the Houston area are quite active, but in the summer, it is so hot that you cannot just go outside for a walk or run. You have to plan ahead to be hydrated, sun-blocked, and probably carrying extra water or even electrolytes. During the day you see very few people walking or running; they work out very early to beat the heat! Report
When we lived in Texas for a few years I was so surprised to find how few people ventured outdoors on a regular basis. Coming from Canada I was used to people being active no matter the weather...we see people riding their bicycles or running in the middle of winter in minus 30 weather. Personally I don't like running outside when it's that cold (that's why we own a treadmill!), but I still get out for a daily walk until it drops below -40. Report
Interesting blog...makes me think. I was born and raised in Boston. Looking back I was more active in Boston than I am here in Southwest Florida. It's funny that I was more active in a climate that you would normally have excuses not to be active such as is freezing cold, raining, etc while living here in Florida for the past 11 years we or I take for granted the beautiful weather we have year round.

I will say that Boston always gave me a scenery, hills to challenge me (I miss this), the running to the next bus or train so I wouldn't miss my ride but Florida is just plain and simple in it's scenery, flat land and not everything is walking distance like in the big cities.

Living in Boston until I was 27 I never owned or drove a car. I depended on my two feet and public transportation. I got my license when I was 28 in Boston knowing I would need to drive when I arrived in Florida. Living in Florida you need a car to get to certain places. If you want to depend on public transportation, you will need to wait one hour for your bus to arrive. Buses run every hour. Report
I live in Georgia,and there are plenty of walking trails,hiking trails,and parks to choose from, Gyms not so close. Everyday I see neighbors out walking/jogging.
I love living close to an area that's more active. I see people running/walking/playing outside all year long. Even when the weather is horrible! It definitely convinces me to get to the gym when I see people trudging through the muck and the rain! Report
My daughter ran 5 miles a day up until the day she went in for a c-section. She was back running 2 weeks later. She's the only runner in the family. The rest of us are walkers. We are in the northeast.

When I was in Texas no one walked on the sidewalks or streets. Everyone went to the beautiful park areas they have and after supper it was packed. Report
I find this interesting because I live in South Carolina and every single day I see several people in my neighborhood walking. When I lived in Michigan not so much. Report
I live 40 miles northwest of Boston (near the Nashua, NH border), and we are quite active, though we usually have to drive to get to a place where we can hike, bike, run, or swim safely. No bike lanes here (I'm envious of yours, Western states!), and running or walking you can take your life in your hands (drivers aren't that courteous), but we do it anyway! I see more and more people out exercising than I did even just a few years ago. Of course, going into Boston, it's easy to see the mentality is all about being healthy. DH and I just took a trip to San Diego, purposely b/c we knew it was an active community. Lots to do there! We don't like to go on vaca to sit on the beach; we like to be active and DO things. So it was fun finding a place that matched our desire to be active. Report
I think safety is a big reason why many people in the least active areas don't exercise. I've read several posts from people who say they live in areas where they don't feel safe walking or running outside. That's not including places where there are no bike paths for riders. There are areas where crime is high. As a result, lots of people just don't feel safe going outside to exercise. If we want to encourage people to be active, then we're going to have to make those places safer.

Another problem is how many people just don't have access to places like gym. I was quite surprized when I read a post from a member who said the nearest gym was a 20-30 minute drive from their home. If we want people to be more active, then not only have to make them feel safe, we have to make sure they have access to gyms or parks or bike paths.

And we have to make fitness affordable. How many people have lost their jobs and just don't have the money to join a gym ? Like healthy food, we have to find ways to make the costs more affordable for everyone.

Just FYI from the full article - " A 2008 CDC survey found that 25.4 percent of all U.S. adults did not spend any of their free time being physically active." Report
I live in the South, in Jackson MS to be exact, and I must say I disagree with this blog. I think just like in the rest of the country, the level of activity depends on the area you live in. Where I work (downtown, near the capitol) there are always people out walking at some point in the day. In my neighborhood, it is the norm to walk and jog, and there are always children out playing. Unfortunately, everything is very spread out and there are not sidewalks on the main roads, so walking or biking to the grocery store or whatever is not feasible.

And my job is in an office and therefore extremely sedentary, so I have to look for ways to increase my activity and make an effort to get exercise in my day. The gyms around here are always busy.

So I know the South gets a bad rap for being obese and sedentary, but I honestly think there are obese and sedentary people in every state. We all struggle with these issues, some more than others. Report
Things like bike lanes, gyms and sidewalks require people with money to pay for them. Many Southern localities don't have this. And yes, I hear the heat excuse a lot. Here in Tallahassee, every time the issue of bike lanes are brought up, people say it's too hot in the summer and that money would be better spent adding car lanes. Interestingly, I understand the cold weather has not stopped Minneapolis, MN from having a quite nice bike lane system. Report
I live in Boston and I would say out of the offices I have worked in over the last 5 years most of the people in the office were very health conscious and were very active. Currently I talk with several girls in the office about fitness on pretty much a daily basis and we cheer each other on and it is nice to have that camaraderie. One of the girls who does marathons is even going to run my first 5K with me and I am pretty excited about it. In general people here are pretty active. I can barely get in the door at my gym most nights of the week it is so packed. Report
Seriously... I live in Buffalo and if it weren't for all the snow shoveling, I bet we would be at the top of the list. It seems that people are divided in to two groups here, those who work out and those who don't. Those of us who do workout, love it and live for it. Those who don't are quite verbal about how much they hate the idea of it.

This observation along with being the originator of things like Chicken Wings makes Buffalo and not so fit city for sure! LOL... but then the Northeast was mentioned... probably referring to this area! ;) Report
Well I can attest to even here on Sparks the teams for New Orleans or La. are not very active to the point I pulled off them. However what I see with my own eyes are people here running, biking walking not in large droves but there people who are active. I am always curious where the stats or how they are derived? I've just join a dance class that convened for the 1st time last week but had to cancel this week due to Mardi Gras. There is some over & covert pressure put on for women, however not excluding men, not to work out. I've never seen more man breast as I've had since coming South! Report
Hmmm....interesting. I lived in Nashville (and may be going back) and my experience was quite different. Running was (and is) extremely popular with races for everyone from any ability level (including "Clydesdale" - how rude). My YMCA was always busy. I lived in NYC, Boston, Chicago, and now Sao Paulo, Brazil. I didn't notice Nashville to be really any different from these hyperactive places. Maybe the overall statistics? Those in the low income level tend to be less active, less healthy overall? I think the best thing is to lead by example. Thanks for this - it made me think! Report
I grew up in MD, a borderline Northern/Southern state, but had acres of woods and yards to play in as a kid. I've been in the Pacific NW for 20 years, and it's even easier to be active and get outdoors!

Unfortunately, in the south, i believe many women still believe that women are not meant to sweat, be strong, or engage in physical activity. Amd overall, people have a old-fashioned view of health and nutrition, while living in a modern world. It doesn't mix well. Report
Thanks for this. Report
I grew up in pacific northwest, where an active outside life was norm, and at least some inside exercise venues were available when outside was particularly unsavory - usually wet where I lived. I rode my bike most days at least 10 miles and I was relatively inactive. Now I live in Nebraska. It is hard to build and maintain an active lifestyle here. The outside changes so much, and so fast - can go from comfortable to life threatening in a matter of minutes. At the same time our small populations cannot sustain gyms and such as a business. What facilities we have are publicly owned. I walk all year but am very much an exception. I swim - am also unusual there, as our local pool is viewed as primarily for children. In very poor weather, I do in house exercise, or visit our clinic to use the elliptical. Several machines are available there, but only that one I can use effectively. People here walk in Spring mornings, and many dance for exercise, ride horses or hunt. Some golf in summer. But in the "off season, many just hole up and endure winter. Report
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