Where the Exercise Is

(Photo: SL Ratigan)

(Photo: SL Ratigan)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast tried to figure out what is the “best” exercise. Meanwhile, Richard Florida‘s latest post for The Atlantic Cities blog looks at state-by-state variations in exercise. When it comes to aerobic exercise, the coasts (and Colorado) win:

[P]articipation in aerobic exercise is most prevalent along the West Coast, in the Rocky Mountain states and the northeast, and far less so in the middle and southern portions of the country.

Colorado tops the list among states, with 61.8 percent of adults meeting the standard for aerobic exercise; Oregon is second (61.1 percent), followed by Vermont (59.2 percent), Hawaii (58.5 percent) and California (58.2 percent). On the flip side, the lowest levels of participation in aerobic exercise are found in southern states – Tennessee (39 percent), Mississippi (40 percent), Louisiana (42 percent), Alabama (42.4 percent) and West Virginia (43 percent).

The trends are similar for muscle-strengthening exercise.  Florida goes on to report on the various correlates of exercise — wealth, affluence, etc.  Interestingly, fitness participation also closely tracks political and religious divides — people in red states exercise less, as do people in more religious states.


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  1. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • James says:

      It’s because God wants them to drive SUVs & oversized pickups, and haul out quads to go hunting with :-)

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      • J1 says:

        “Just a month after making those New Year’s resolutions, 36 percent will already have given up”

        I know I should want everybody to exercise more, but that month or so the gym is packed with resolutionaries is hell, unless your schedule permits you to go midmorning or late at night. Can we get people to make resolutions to get off the machine between sets? Or at least acknowledge that it isn’t your personal ****ing La-Z-Boy? I know – I should be doing free weights. Someday, maybe.

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      • J1 says:

        In fairness, most of the SUV drivers I know are upper-middle class stay at home moms, nearly all of whom are in very, very good shape. YMMV.

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  2. Roger Back says:

    Really? You can’t correlate the idea of all you gotta do is believe and heaven will be yours with an increased lack of personal accountability? Do note its a particular religion that’s popular there, southern states aren’t known for their Buddhism.

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  3. Martin says:

    I totally get the religious correlation. Religious people believe god gave them the eggs and the bacon and will spare them the heart attack if they regularly go to church whereas the godless atheists must burn (calories in the gym) to achieve the same :)

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  4. lazar says:

    I would think age and degree of urbanization would underlie many of the correllations mentioned in the report, including religion.

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  5. Buba says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • James says:

      I don’t think this explanation will fly. For one thing, as was noted above, it’s not ALL religion we’re discussing here, but one particular religion. That religion has a long history of disdaining things of the flesh – and IIRC that’s fairly explicit in its scripture.

      A second point is that at least for me, and I think for many people, postponement of death is not a major part of why I exercise. Most of my exercising – hiking, biking, skiing, and so on – are things I do primarily for the pleasure of doing them. The exercise is secondary, though it’s also part of the pleasure. Other exercise, like weights & yoga, are done so that I can better do the things I enjoy.

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      • Buba says:

        I agree with you. I believe what I said partially explains this issue, not in total at all. It would be wrong to consider everyone’s reason to exercise (or not) as just one single factor.

        But I think the fact that people exercise because they enjoy is definitely true, but this is a subset of your those who exercise. And then we can go further and maybe assume that “enjoying exercise” can constitute a more or less fixed ratio of any given population in different US states. Is enjoying exercise nurtured or something you are born with? That would be also interesting to check.

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  6. annie says:

    I absolutely LOVE your podcasts.

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  7. NPW says:

    I’ve lived in almost half of the states, including both Alaska and Hawaii. Thinking back, I’d say that I exercised more when I lived in blue states than red states. Blue states had more outdoor activities that I liked to do, and therefore ended up more active. Right now I live in Maryland, where this correlation is not holding true, but on average it has been.

    Exercise in the south and middle states is something done by the young. On the coasts and mountian states, exercise is part of the adult life.

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  8. Solitus says:

    With the exception of WV, reduced exercise in the south is because – wait for it –
    It’s Too Dang Hot!
    Even in the gyms.
    We stop golfing when we no longer get “rooster tails” when putting.

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    • James says:

      Not quite sure what “rooster tails” are, but I think your fundamental problem lies in thinking of golf as exercise.

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