For the first time, more than half of Americans are getting the recommended amount of exercise

All together now.
All together now.
Image: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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Americans are getting more active.

On May 22, the US Centers for Disease Control published preliminary results of 2016 National Health Interview Survey. These surveys have been conducted annually since 1997, and ask a geographically and racially representative sample of over 73,000 adults about their health habits. For the first time, more than half of Americans reported that they got the recommended amount of leisurely physical activity.

Adults should get either 150 minutes of moderate movement, like walking or yoga, or 75 minutes of intense exercise, like running, per week. These results have been adjusted to reflect the relative number of people in different age groups.

Even though exercise has increased, metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes have increased or plateaued over the years.

These two conditions are often tied to low levels of physical activity. Being obese isn’t a health concern itself, but the other conditions associated with it, like heart disease, can put a dangerous strain on the body over time. Similarly, type-2 diabetes is caused in part by prolonged high levels of blood sugar; treatment for it usually includes medication and physical activity, the latter of which can actually reverse it over time. (Type-1 diabetes is when the body cannot produce enough insulin, and is not caused by being overweight. Although the survey question didn’t distinguish between the two types of diabetes, type-1 diabetes only makes up a small fraction of diabetes cases.)

In theory, more physical activity should bring obesity and diabetes rates down, but it could be that the benefits of exercise take a few years to materialize. Additionally, poor diets could be undermining the work of physical activity. Even with exercise, consuming too many calories will still cause weight gain.