A just-released study by the Physical Activity Council (PAC) found 77% of Americans age six and over took part in at least one activity (217.0 million people) in 2009. This leaves 64.6 million people who are inactive, according to the survey.

The survey of 40,141 people over the age of 6 took place in January and early February 2010 with questions probing 2009 sports and fitness activity participation.

Researchers allocated a “calories burned” measure to 117 different activities. For example, high impact aerobics, cardio kickboxing and ice hockey were defined as “High Calorie” sports; golf and softball as “Medium Calorie;” and bird watching and fishing as “Low Calorie.”
Around 151 million Americans took part in at least one high calorie activity. This number drops to 78 million frequent participants in high calorie activities, or only 28% of the population. Over 50% of Americans take part in no activities at all or are infrequent participants.

“What's most alarming about this situation is that 34% of the inactive people are between 6 and 34 years of age,” said Tom Cove, president and CEO of SGMA, which is the managing partner of the Physical Activity Council, in a statement. “The study also shows that the number of inactive 6 to 12 year olds has more than doubled since 2008.”

On the positive side, Cove noted that findings showed that many people want to be active. According to those surveyed, 23.1% said they were planning to make an equipment purchase in 2010, 19.3% indicated they planned to travel to take part in an activity, and 13.2% planned to join or rejoin a health club.

“This is a clarion call for our society — industry, communities, government and the non-profit sector — to be more committed and creative in providing sports, fitness and recreation opportunities for every American,” said Cove.


Other findings from the survey:

  • In fitness, Americans using elliptical motion trainers increased 4.9% in 2009; treadmill use increased 4.1%; and stationary cycling advanced 2.0%. Training with free weights also continued to increase with barbells use up 3.5%, dumbbells ahead 3.9% and hand weights up 6.8%.

  • Running continued to expand, up 6.7% to 43.8 million participants in 2009.  Both traditional and non-traditional triathlons and adventure racing saw double-digit increases.

  • Although mountain biking showed a slight decrease, road cycling increased 5.3% to 40.1 million participants.

  • A drop in the number of golfers was recorded in 2009 (down 5.1% from 2008) due mainly to “churn” – those who tried the game and quit, plus golfers lost due to mortality, infirmity or taking a hiatus. Meanwhile, 1.7 million beginners played golf for the first time in 2009 and 2.0 million former golfers returned to the game.

  • Participation in “core” outdoor sports and activities increased 3.3% to 100.7 million Americans ages 6 and above, with camping leading the gains. Hiking remained strong through 2009 with 32.6 million participants.

  • Smaller and more “niche” team sports such as lacrosse, ice hockey and fast pitch softball all showed good increases for the year. However, traditional team sports generally showed declines in 2009 highlighting the lack of opportunity and resources in a tough economy and cutbacks in schools.

  • More expensive water activities such as water-skiing and scuba-diving have seen consistent declines since 2000. Wakeboarding was relatively stable with only a marginal decline of 0.8%.
    Most winter sports activities had single digit growth with the aid of a healthy snowfall over the 08/09 winter season. Snowshoeing had an increase of 17.4% from 2.9 million to 3.4 million participants.

  • Tennis participation remained strong and has increased 42.8% since the year 2000. Cardio tennis increased 20% from 2008 and has now pushed past 1 million participants.

  • Fly fishing and saltwater fishing participation both saw declines, attributed to the economy since both tend to be more expensive “destination” forms of fishing. Freshwater fishing managed a 1.8% increase in the year with 40.9 million participants.

  • Hunting (handgun) and hunting (shotgun) both showed declines but bow hunting and rifle hunting increased in 2009.