Physical Activity: Too Exclusive?


Not everyone is getting the fitness message - possibly because the message isn't appropriate.

WASHINGTON - Researchers from American University believe that recommendations for physical activity may be missing homemakers, blue-collar workers and minorities.

The researchers studied data on the physical activity habits of more than 18,000 adults who took part in the federal government's third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). The survey revealed that exercise is most common among educated white males with comparatively high salaries.

According to the survey, 47 percent of participants who didn't graduate high school were inactive, compared with 26 percent of college graduates. Forty-seven percent of those earning under $10,000 a year reported they were inactive, while only 32 percent of those earning $35,000 or more didn't exercise. Furthermore, 47 percent of homemakers claimed that they didn't take part in regular physical activity, compared with 40 percent of blue-collar workers and 29 percent of white-collar professionals.

Carlos J. Crespo, one of the American University researchers, noted that economics might explain the differences in activity level found in the NHANES III. Those with higher incomes have the money for health club dues, and, furthermore, they can hire people to do chores and free up more time to exercise. In contrast, people with lower incomes may not have the money to join a club, and if they live in unsafe neighborhoods, they may not feel comfortable taking walks or doing other outdoor activities.

Education and money weren't the only factors that affected physical activity. The study also showed a connection between ethnic status and exercise. Specifically, 40 percent of Mexican Americans, 35 percent of blacks and 18 percent of whites did not exercise in their free time. Even when income and education were the same, blacks and Mexican Americans still reported less activity than whites.

Crespo could only speculate reasons for the cultural differences. He theorized that perhaps messages promoting exercise have not been put into a proper cultural context, showing people of all races taking part in exercises that appeal to them. For example, brisk walking, a common form of exercise that experts frequently recommend, may not be the preferred physical activity for nonwhites. Citing his own childhood in Puerto Rico, Crespo pointed out that dancing was the physical activity of choice.

Source: The Associated Press

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