Think You're Too Busy To Exercise? This Study Says You're Probably Not 

mbg Health Contributor By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”

Image by Jacob Lund / iStock

It's 2019, and we're all busy. We have jobs to do, bills to pay, kids to raise, and errands to run. But if you think you're too busy to fit in a workout a few times a week, a new study—published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease—may force you to rethink a few things.

As it turns out, Americans do have quite a bit of free time—and they're not using it in the healthiest ways.

How much "free time" Americans really have.

Conducted by a nonprofit research organization called the RAND Corporation, the study collected data from over 32,000 Americans ages 15 and older, between the years 2014 and 2016. They asked the participants to record their activities for one day, noting everything they did for a full 24 hours, and then analyzed the data to uncover how the participants were spending their free time.

If you're wondering what counts as "free time"—since it could be interpreted very differently by different people—you're in luck because the authors defined it very specifically. Free time was time not spent on work, commuting, sleeping, or doing household activities like cleaning. They also excluded more debatable activities like self-care, grooming, playing with children, shopping, and family caretaking from the "free time" category.

The results showed that on average, Americans have about five hours of free time each day. More specifically, the results showed that even after adjusting for different age, gender, and racial groups, no group had less than 4.5 hours of free time per day. The results also revealed that men have more free time than women—about 30 minutes more each day.

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How Americans are spending their free time.

Now that we know how much free time we have on average, how are we spending it?

The results showed that unfortunately, we're much more likely to spend our free time in front of a screen than on the tennis court or at the gym. In fact, no group spent more than 7% of their free time on physical activities—with men spending about 6.6% of their free time exercising and women spending about 5% of their free time on physical activity on average.

Knowing this is a good wake-up call for many of us, especially if we're convinced we don't have much time to spend on exercise. As physician researcher and co-author of the study Deborah Cohen, M.D., MPH, explained it, "There is a general perception among the public and even public health professionals that a lack of leisure time is a major reason that Americans do not get enough physical activity." But the truth is, they "found no evidence for those beliefs," she continued.

According to the CDC, only about 23% of Americans get enough exercise. And it's hurting our health in myriad ways. The health benefits of physical activity are practically endless; it can improve our mood, prevent cardiovascular disease, boost libido, and support cognitive function—just to name a few.

The authors hope that this study will increase public awareness of how people are using their time and "encourage Americans to reduce their screen time [to] help people to become more physically active." Even if we don't have hours upon hours of free time each day, "these findings suggest getting Americans to devote at least 20 or 30 minutes each day to physical activity is feasible," says Cohen.

So what's the take-home? If you're having trouble prioritizing exercise, keep track of how much free time you have each day and exactly how you're spending it. Even if you can make time for a 12-minute at-home HIIT workout or manage to create your own 30-minute yoga practice, you'll be benefiting your health in more ways than one.

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