Health >> Physical Activity

Physical Activity:  Summary and Data Highlights

Adults at the highest education and income levels were most likely to meet physical activity standards.

Regular physical activity helps control weight, strengthen bones and muscles, and boost mental health and academic performance. It also reduces the risks of many chronic illnesses. Federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise for adults and at least an hour of exercise each day for children and teens.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services issued physical activity guidelines describing the types and amounts of physical activity recommended for substantial health benefits. Applying these guidelines, Communities Count analyzed data from King County adults (average of data from 2007 and 2009 surveys) and children (2010 survey). Note: the new guidelines differ from those used in earlier Communities Count reports.

The chance of meeting adult physical activity standards varies with income,education, race/ethnicity,disability, and employment status.

  • Income:  The likelihood that adults would do the recommended amount of physical activity increased with income.
    • Overall, 69% of King County adults met standards.
    • 75% of adults with household income ≥$75,000 met standards.
    • Only 54% of adults with income <$15,000 met standards.
  • Education: As education level increased, so did the likelihood that adults would exercise at the recommended level.
    • 74% of college graduates met standards.
    • Only 53% of those without a high school degree met the standards.
  • Race/Ethnicity, Language of Interview:
    • Among adults, the racial/ethnic groups least likely to meet physical activity guidelines were Asians (59%), Blacks (60%), and Hispanics (61%). 71% of Whites met standards. The rates for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, multiple-race individuals, and American Indian/Alaska Natives were similar to the rate for Whites.
    • Among students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12:
      • Only 16% of Asian students met standards, a finding that echoes the relatively low proportion of Asian adults meeting standards.
      • American Indian/Alaska Native (30%) and Black (25%) students were most likely to meet physical activity standards.
    • Among Hispanic adults, those who completed the survey in English were more likely to meet standards (74%) than those who completed the survey in Spanish (43%).
  • Disability:  55% of adults with a disability met standards, compared to 73% of adults without a disability.
  • Employment:  Almost 3 out of 4 employed adults met physical activity standards.  However, only 37% of adults who were unable to work met standards. 

Physical activity differed by gender and age, but standards for adults are more relaxed than standards for children.  Federal guidelines recommend that children exercise at least 420 minutes a week, compared to 150 minutes a week for adults – almost a 3-fold difference.

  • Only about 21% of youth met physical activity standards in 2010.
  • Among both adults and youth, the likelihood of meeting physical activity standards decreased with age.
    • 79% of adults ages 18 to 24 met physical activity standards, compared to 70% of adults ages 25 to 64 and 59% of adults ages 65 and older.
    • The proportion of students meeting federal standards steadily decreased from 28% of 6th graders to only 16% of 12th graders.
  • In adults and youth, males were more likely than females to meet standards.

Location made a difference for adults, but not for youth.

  • Among adults, regional rates of meeting physical activity standards were:
    • 74% in Seattle.
    • 66% in South Region.
    • 71% in North Region and 70% in East Regions (similar to the King County average).
  • There were no regional differences in physical activity among students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. For all regions, the likelihood of youth meeting federal standards did not differ significantly from the King County average of 21%.

Physical activity was related to family composition.

  • Adults in a household with children were more likely to meet physical activity standards than those who didn’t live with children.
  • Adults in a couple relationship were more likely to meet standards than adults without a partner.

"We are a family that loves exercise… we go to the YMCA all the time. I do a lot of classes… and [the children] play while I do classes. We do swimming pool time, and… they offer a financial assistance program."
Mother living with husband and 3 children in mobile home, North King County