About the Heart

Risks of Physical Inactivity

What health risks are associated with physical inactivity?

Photo of a blood pressure monitor

Lack of physical activity has clearly been shown to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

  • Less active, less fit persons have a 30 to 50 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Although no direct link exists between regular exercise and stroke, it is known that exercise reduces the risk of other health problems, such as heart disease, which can contribute to stroke.

Facts about sedentary lifestyles:

Estimates indicate that nearly 250,000 deaths per year in the US -- about 12 percent of total deaths -- are due to a lack of regular physical activity. Surveys show that only 22 percent of American adults get enough leisure-time exercise to achieve cardiovascular fitness. The 1991-92 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Study data show the following have a sedentary lifestyle:

  • Caucasian population -- 56.2 percent men and 56.4 percent women
  • African-American population -- 62.8 percent men and 67.7 percent women 
  • Hispanic population -- 61.5 percent men and 61.9 percent women
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders -- 56.6 percent men and 64.7 percent women
  • American Indian/Alaskan Natives -- 50.8 percent men and 64.1 percent women

It has also been found that people with lower incomes and less than a 12th grade education are more likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle. Thirty-eight percent of people age 55 and older report essentially sedentary lifestyles.

One National Children and Youth Fitness Study found that:

  • at least half of youth do not engage in physical activity that promotes long-term health.
  • less than 36 percent of elementary and secondary schools offer daily physical education classes.
  • most classes were unlikely to foster lifelong physical activity.

This page was last updated: September 17, 2014

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