BREAKING: National Survey Finds Nearly 40% of Americans Never Workout; Massive Regional and State-by-State Discrepancies

Key takeaways:

  • 39.4% of U.S. adults report “never” working out
  • The least active states are Mississippi and Tennessee (65.4% and 56% never work out, respectively), whereas the most active are Minnesota and California (18.8% and 26.8%)
  • New York State is above the national median, with 44.2% claiming they never work out
  • Men are more active on average than women, with women tending to prefer lighter exercise routines at a frequency of 1-2 times per week
  • Age is not a barrier to exercise in and of itself; retirement-aged Americans report exercising more than the national average
  • Young Americans aged 18-24 are 26% more likely to report never working out than retirement-aged respondents 

Figure 1. Source: Google Surveys

Since time immemorial, physical exercise and sports have remained among the best methods of stress relief and maintaining one’s health and longevity against disease. Today, the ongoing pandemic has only underlined the importance of regular physical exercise in our lives. 

However, this has apparently fallen on deaf ears for the majority of Americans. According to our recent national survey, a plurality (39.4%) of U.S. adults claim they never workout. This corresponds to previous research finding that Americans now lead sedentary lifestyles more than ever before, with deskbound jobs being 83% more common now than in 1950. 

Although we all have our reasons for not exercising, or not exercising enough, the lack of physical movement in the average American lifestyle is concerning. In this report, we’ll discuss how our survey reveals the true extent of America’s exercise problem, and how barriers to regular exercise can be overcome with simple, at-home bodyweight training.

October 2021 Survey: 39.4% of Americans Never Exercise

At Gymless, we recently launched a nationwide survey that found that 39.4% of American adults claim to work out zero times per week. The question was put as follows:

“How often do you work out per week? (This includes going to the gym, biking, jogging, or any moderate to intense physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes.)”

The survey recruited 1,501 respondents (1,111 after weighting adjustments) aged 18 and above whose data was collected between September 10th and October 4th, 2021. The results above (Fig. 1) indicate that, while a plurality (39.4%) of U.S. adults claim to never vigorously exercise, 22.5% exercise once or twice weekly, and a combined 38% report working out at least three times per week.

In other words, while the “Never” category generated more responses than any other, a strong majority of Americans (60.5%) still claim to exercise at least once in any given week. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends strengthening major muscle groups via exercise at least twice weekly—once per week, therefore, is insufficient.

The chart below (Figs. 2) demonstrates the age breakdown of each response category. Somewhat surprisingly, there exists a relatively even distribution of responses across each age category for every response. For example, about the same percentage of those aged 65+ (5.97%) said they never work out as compared to those aged 18-24 (5.81%). 

Figure 2. Source: Google Surveys

For a clearer look at how each age group responded, the chart below (Fig. 3) stacks each response category by age group. Here, you can see that a similar share of those aged 65+ (1.63%) report working out every day as younger adults aged 25-34 (1.47%). 

Figure 3. Source: Google Surveys

In raw numbers, 624 respondents report never working out. This group represented the single largest response category, outnumbering those who work out “3-4 times per week” by a factor of 2.27. Surprisingly, those who never work out outnumber those in the bottom three response categories combined (i.e., those who work out 3 or more times weekly). 

Survey Methodology

A total sample of 1,501 unweighted responses were collected from a nationally representative population. For more accurate national representation, Google Surveys automatically reduced the total respondent count to 1,111 after weighting age, gender, and regional demographic data. 

Respondents were sourced by Google Surveys, and included respondents from every U.S. region and state, including Alaska and Hawaii.

After adjusting for weight, among those surveyed, 644 respondents identified as male and 467 identified as female. Regarding region, a plurality of survey participants indicated that they live in the South (36.1%), followed by the Midwest (32.9%), the West (17.2%), and the Northeast (13.9%). 

Survey responses were collected over a 24-day period commencing on September 10th, 2021, in which answers were submitted through the Google Surveys online submission portal. For state-by-state comparisons, states with fewer than 17 respondents were excluded from consideration.

Study Details and RMSE Score

  • Audience: Users of the Google Surveys Publisher Network
  • Method: Representative
  • Age: 18+
  • Gender: All genders
  • Location: United States
  • Language: English
  • Frequency: Once

Root mean square error (RMSE) is a weighted average of the difference between the predicted population sample (CPS) and the actual sample (Google). The lower the number, the smaller the overall sample bias. 

Discussion of Survey Findings: Region, Age, and Gender

The results of this survey are significant because they shed light on the growing prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the United States. Beyond that, they suggest some extreme gender-based, age-related, and regional or state-by-state variations in physical activity levels. 

Region

Regarding regional discrepancies, below we’ve listed the percentage of “Never” responses according to the geographical region of the respondent.

  • South: 44.2%
  • Midwest: 39.7%
  • West: 36.6%
  • Northeast: 32.4%

To highlight significant state-by-state variations in physical activity levels, we’ve listed the top and bottom three U.S. states ordered by the percentage of those who “Never” exercise. 

Highest Concentration of “Never” Responses

  • Mississippi: 65.4%
  • Tennessee: 56%
  • Indiana: 55.6%
  • Illinois: 50.1%
  • Kansas: 49.5%

Lowest Concentration of “Never” Responses

  • Minnesota: 18.8%
  • California: 26.8%
  • Pennsylvania: 28.4%
  • Wisconsin: 32.4%
  • Colorado: 35.9%

Other Populous U.S. States

  • New York: 44.2%
  • Florida: 40%
  • Texas: 39.3%
  • Ohio: 36.4%
  • North Carolina: 47.8%
  • Georgia: 45.8%

Age

There are also some interesting age-related findings. Across the entire national sample, 39.4% report never working out. However, among those aged 35 to 54, at an age when people tend to be fully invested in their careers and families, this figure rises to 40.5%

Our findings indicate that age is not a barrier to exercise in and of itself, since those aged 65+, the typical retirement age in the U.S., report exercising more than the national aveage. In fact, only 36.8% of those aged 65+ claim to never work out, while a whopping 46.8% in this age group exercise three times or more per week. 

By contrast, the youngest age group (18-24) are about 26% more likely to report never working out (46.3%) than those aged 65+. Those in the youngest age group are, in fact, 44% less likely to report working out three times or more per week than retirement-aged Americans.

Gender

Women are more likely to report never working out (54.1%) compared to men (45.9%). This trend holds up for the most physical active respondent groups—for example, among those who report working out every day, 56.7% are men whereas only 43.3% are women. 

Interestingly, women seem to take a preference to lighter fitness regimens. Women make up a majority of those who report working out 1-2 times weekly, representing 55.3% of respondents versus 44.7% who are male-identifying. 

Why Don’t Americans Exercise More?

There are many reasons why Americans say they don’t exercise, with some being legitimate barriers and others being little more than cheap excuses. 

A recent report found that among all the reasons for not exercising, chief among them is a lack of time—42% of sedentary Americans claim they simply don’t have enough time to routinely break a sweat. Yet, curiously, the average American finds the time to spend 3.1 hours per day watching television.

A legitimate barrier to exercise, however, is the inaccessibility of gyms and fitness centers for low-income or rural Americans. After all, the average cost of a gym membership is $58 per month, an expense unaffordable for many working-class American families. For others, fitness centers are simply located too far away to access. 

Like any multi-faceted societal issue, any solution must be equally manifold. Part of the solution, however, is simple: more Americans should consider ditching the gym in favor of calisthenics. Not only can calisthenics (i.e., bodyweight strength training) be performed anywhere, but it’s also 100% free and requires no more than 30 minutes per session. 

Calisthenics: Breaking The Exercise Barrier

Fitness is a core component of health. In today’s public health climate, regular exercise is more important than ever. Yet, our survey finds that far too many Americans forego exercise in favor of a sedentary, chairbound lifestyle. 

If you’re part of the 38% of Americans who work out at least three times per week, then you’re already well on your way to living a long, healthy, and youthful life. For those in the majority of Americans who don’t, a lifestyle switch might help you achieve the quality of life you deserve.

Fortunately, you don’t have to bend over backward to build a healthy, active lifestyle. At-home calisthenics training for 30 minutes, three times per day is enough to forge an incredible physique, and reap myriad health and fitness benefits that will impact every facet of your life. 

To get started, our head calisthenics coach Pat Chadwick has countless hours’ worth of free instructional videos and articles for beginners. For those who want more personalized instruction or a bespoke fitness plan, book a one-on-one consultation with Pat Chadwick today.

Full Survey Report

For a closer look at the survey data, view the full report on Google Data Studio. Or, view the PDF report embedded in the screen below.

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