Metrowest Daily News Published June 10, 2019: Americans are working out than ever before. And yet, as a whole, we’re also more sedentary than ever before.
How can this dichotomy be explained?
Since the start of the millennium, membership in fitness centers and health clubs has nearly doubled, from 32.8 million in 2000 to 60.87 million in 2017, according to Statista. Globally, fitness centers are now an $87.2 billion industry, serving 174 million members, according to the 2018 IHRSA State of the Industry Report.
My small community of Northborough has about a dozen fitness centers, ranging from traditional gyms to studios specializing in yoga, Pilates, CrossFit training and sports-related fitness. While there are more than 36,000 fitness centers and health clubs in the United States, millions of Americans work out at home or in workplace gyms.
So exercise has truly caught on.
Sitting it out
And yet a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that Americans are spending an hour more sitting each day than they did just a decade ago. Not surprisingly, the study found that increased use of computers at home is responsible for the increased lack of mobility.
Researchers found that, from 2007 to 2016, the number of hours a day spent sitting increased from an average of 7.0 to 8.2 for adolescents and from 5.5 to 6.4 for adults. Yet the study may be under-reporting the trend. Some researchers question the results, because survey information was self-reported.
In addition, the survey does not take cellphone use into consideration. Many Americans spend hours each day posting on social media, checking on friends’ posts, texting, talking, playing games, checking traffic and more.
The amount of time spent watching television and videos remained constant throughout the survey period, but high. The study found that 62 percent of children age five to 11 and an astounding 84 percent of people age 65 and older watch more than two hours of television a day.
Then there is time spent sitting at a home computer or with a cellphone. And, of course, there is time spent sitting at work, as well as driving and eating. Add it up and it’s likely you’ll find that most of your waking hours are not spent moving.
Why it’s so
So if we’re all working out more, how is it that we’re also sitting more?
Many people think they’ve earned it. Those who work out may feel entitled to sit and relax when they’re not working out. They have a point, but too much sitting will, of course, be counterproductive.
There are plenty of exercises you can do while watching TV, including exercising with bands or a Bosu. If you’d rather sit, try sitting on a stability ball.
Many gym members are not gym users. Being a member of a fitness center or health club doesn’t guarantee that you are getting your money’s worth. It’s alarming, but one study found that only about 18 percent of people who buy memberships use them consistently.
Many people join a gym in January after making a New Year’s resolution to get in shape. That approach typically ends quickly. Fitness requires a consistent effort and those who are not motivated usually give it up before January ends.
Try setting goals for yourself. Once you meet your first goal, set a more difficult goal and keep going. Remember that it will take time and consistent effort to meet your goals.
Many gym users aren’t frequent users. People are busy. Work schedules often go beyond the 40-hour work week, then there’s commuting time, time for family and friends, time for household chores, time for volunteer work, and time for hobbies and other interests.
Finding time to work out consistently is difficult. Those who do so often take classes that take place at the same time every week. Once they are part of a weekly routine, the chances of keeping them up improve.
Start with a few classes a week, then add on if you can. Ideally, you should exercise every day.
Not all gym users work out hard enough. Go to a gym and look around. You’ll likely notice that in many cases the muscles getting the most work are the jaw muscles. Talking enables a person to postpone the hard work.
In one survey of gym members, 30 percent admitted that they never break a sweat at the gym, because they spend too much time talking and not enough time exercising.
That’s another reason classes can be more effective than working out independently. Everyone in a class follows the instructor, which typically means a full hour-long workout. Participants move from one exercise to another with just enough time in between to catch their breath.
The trend will continue
As technology continues to develop, the trend toward a more sedentary lifestyle is likely to continue. We are using technology to do physical work that we used to do ourselves. As technology evolves, it also increasingly serves as a source of entertainment that distracts us and keeps us from doing anything that requires significant movement.
I’m reminded of the popular movie “WALL-E,” in which Earth’s former inhabitants evolved into overweight, muscle-less blobs that moved on hovering chair-like vehicles while they drank their meals through straws, and watched a constant feed of TV and video chatting.
That’s not a future any of us want, but maybe thinking of “WALL-E” can help motivate you to be less sedentary and to work out more regularly.
Rita Matraia is the owner of The Core Connection, a boutique fitness studio in Northborough. She is a Certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a Certified Restorative Exercise Specialist, a Certified Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist and a Healthy Foot Practitioner through the Nutritious Movement Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.