Do Americans spend more time on sports and exercise?

Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

In this post, we will explore the American Time Use Survey data to see how much time Americans spend on fitness activities. For some, sports may be considered a type of simple leisure or entertainment, but for many people, they are a serious commitment.

As we can see, participation rates grew slightly in the last decade: Around 20 percent of the population practices sports daily. The growth was more prominent among men: 22.3 percent reported participating in sports in 2014 versus 20.1 percent in 2003, while the growth among women was only 1 percent. Using detailed information from the time use survey, we created a more detailed chart where you can compare participation rates and average time spent on sports for different demographics. Note, however, that the time is averaged only among those who reported doing sports. Averages for the whole population are significantly lower since only one-fifth of the population exercised.

As engagement in sports grows among many age groups, the mean time spent on these activities actually decreases — this means that most newcomers spend less than the average amount of time exercising. Since 2003, the national average time spent on sports dropped by 10 minutes and is now 1 hour and 40 minutes per day.

The most active group certainly is youth. Over 30 percent of 15- to 20-year-old Americans engage in sports activities daily, but even among this group the duration decreased: It is now 2 hours and 8 minutes, down from 2 hours and 22 minutes in 2013.

Men of active age (20 to 40 years old) show a notably consistent behavior: The engagement percentage stayed almost constant at 21 percent since 2009, while the average time spent decreased; this indicates that the actual training sessions became shorter. Women of the same age group demonstrated a very different behavior: Their training time stayed close to 1 hour and 26 minutes while their participation rate increased at the same time (2 percent since 2003). Controlling for employment shows that unemployed women are less engaged in sports, but those who are unemployed spend 10 minutes more on their training. Men who don’t have a job train 20 minutes more and are more eager to participate: 23 percent participation.

Finally, let’s see what types of sporting activities were popular among respondents. In this polar chart, we used a logarithmic scale to emphasize differences in the order of magnitude.

Hunting was very rarely reported by women, while 2 percent of men chose hunting as their favorite sport and exercise activity. Women's football was also practically non-existent: 0.1 percent versus 2 percent among men. Both genders were equally likely to engage in a game of soccer (about 2 percent). Men gave up their leading participation rate in activities like yoga, aerobics and water sports.

The above bar chart shows the difference in sports' popularity in the familiar linear scale. The highest absolute differences are the following: Women are 11 percent more likely to report walking and using cardio equipment as their daily exercise, while men were 5 percent more likely to list weightlifting and basketball.

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About Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

Alexander is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science. He currently holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Applied Math. He has experience working for industry major companies performing research in the fields of machine learning, data mining and natural language processing. In his free time, Alexander enjoys hiking, Nordic skiing and traveling.

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