Are American adults slowing down? Almost two in three (61 percent) say they're less active today than they were five years ago. And 19 percent (nearly one in five) say they don't exercise regularly, according to a new AARP Bulletin poll. In 2009, 25 percent of respondents said they didn't work out regularly.
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One reason may be stress, especially financial stress, says fitness expert Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Fit to Live. Another may be extra weight. Americans tend to be more overweight today than they were perhaps even five years ago, and as a result, many find it difficult to be physically active when they have more weight to carry around, she says.
"People today are in worse shape overall … mostly because they're heavier and more sedentary and that could be why they're not considering doing more activity in the future," Peeke says. "It's very important to realize that after age 50 especially, people tend to accrue physical disabilities and medical conditions. The last thing they want to do when their joints ache or back hurts is be more active."
Still, of the 1,000 people age 45 and older polled, seven in 10 said they exercise regularly. Of those, half favor walking, while 6 percent choose bicycling and 5 percent use an elliptical machine, stair climber or treadmill. Weight lifting, gardening and team sports each were chosen by 3 percent of those surveyed.
Walking is inexpensive and easy on the joints, and it's the most preferred exercise by far among physically active older Americans, according to the poll.
Thomas Green, 73, a retiree in York, Pa., says he walks at least one mile every day, rain or shine.
"I have a treadmill so when it's raining or cold, I use it. I walk outside the other days," he says. "Where I live, it's quite hilly, so I'm not walking on flat ground. The main thing is, walking helps me control my weight rather than just sitting around watching TV all day long."
As experts increasingly tout the benefits of exercise as a way to stay healthy, more people 45 and older have started exercising. The 71 percent of those who said they exercise in 2011 compares with 66 percent of adults age 45 and up who said they were physically active on a regular basis in 2009.
In the earlier poll, 67 percent of people 55 to 64 said they exercised regularly, compared with 73 percent in that age group who said the same today. Similarly, 55 percent of those 65-plus reported regular physical activity in 2009, compared with 66 percent in the latest survey, which was conducted in November.
Those 45-plus who exercised seemed to make it more of a priority two years ago. The 2009 poll found that 57 percent were physically active for four hours a week or more, compared with 53 percent who said the same today.
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Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.