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Physical Inactivity - Women
Physical Inactivity - Women in United States
United States

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Physical Inactivity - Women in depth:

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Physical Inactivity - Women by State

Percentage of women ages 18-44 who reported doing no physical activity or exercise other than their regular job in the past 30 days

Physical Inactivity - Women Trends

Percentage of women ages 18-44 who reported doing no physical activity or exercise other than their regular job in the past 30 days

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Physical Inactivity - Women

About Physical Inactivity - Women

US Value: 22.3%

Top State(s): Vermont: 13.3%

Bottom State(s): Mississippi: 30.1%

Definition: Percentage of women ages 18-44 who reported doing no physical activity or exercise other than their regular job in the past 30 days

Data Source and Years: CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2019-2020

Suggested Citation: America's Health Rankings analysis of CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United Health Foundation,, accessed 2023.

Physical inactivity, or a sedentary lifestyle, can increase the risk of a number of health consequences such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, obesity, diabetes and premature death

In contrast, physical activity may lower the risk of breast cancer among women as well as help improve depression and good quality of sleep. Physical activity during pregnancy reduces the risk of excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes. Furthermore, physical activity during the postpartum period (first year after delivery) decreases symptoms of postpartum depression. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 8.3% of deaths among adults ages 25 and older without a disability were attributed to physical inactivity. Costs associated with physical inactivity account for more than 11% of total health care expenditures and are estimated at $117 billion annually.

The percentage of women who are physically inactive is higher among:

  • Women ages 35-44 compared with women ages 18-34; women ages 18-24 have the lowest prevalence of physical inactivity. 
  • Black and Hispanic women compared with Asian and white women; white women have the lowest prevalence.
  • Women with less than a high school education compared with women with higher levels of education; the prevalence of physical inactivity decreases with each increase in education level.
  • Women with an annual household income below $25,000 compared with women with higher levels of income; the prevalence of physical inactivity decreases with each increase in income level.

Reducing the amount of time spent sitting or watching television decreases the health risks associated with physical inactivity. The physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services specify that adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. The department’s key guidelines for adults include:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity) aerobic physical activity, such as running, riding a bike, dancing or swimming, a week. 
  • Muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups two or more days a week.

The guidelines also recommend that women who are pregnant or postpartum continue to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. This should be done in consultation with their health care provider. Physical activity should be modified based on the medical conditions of a pregnant woman. 

The CDC makes several community-level recommendations to increase physical activity, including adopting environmental approaches to enhance opportunities for active transport and leisure-time activity, adopting zoning code reforms that promote physical activity and promoting social support interventions such as walking or cycling groups.

In addition, a 2017 study found that workplace interventions to increase physical activity for working-age women led to an increase in moderate-to-vigorous-intensity levels of physical activity.

Healthy People 2030 has several physical activity objectives, including reducing the proportion of adults who engage in no leisure-time physical activity and increasing the proportion of adults who meet federal guidelines for aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity.

“ACOG Committee Opinion No. 804: Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 135, no. 4 (April 2020): e178–88.

Carlson, Susan A., E. Kathleen Adams, Zhou Yang, and Janet E. Fulton. “Percentage of Deaths Associated With Inadequate Physical Activity in the United States.” Preventing Chronic Disease 15 (March 29, 2018): 170354.

Carlson, Susan A., Janet E. Fulton, Michael Pratt, Zhou Yang, and E. Kathleen Adams. “Inadequate Physical Activity and Health Care Expenditures in the United States.” Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 2013 Global Congress on Physical Activity - All Hearts Need Exercise: A Global Call to Action by the AHA, 57, no. 4 (January 1, 2015): 315–23.

Ekelund, Ulf, Jostein Steene-Johannessen, Wendy J. Brown, Morten Wang Fagerland, Neville Owen, Kenneth E. Powell, Adrian Bauman, and I-Min Lee. “Does Physical Activity Attenuate, or Even Eliminate, the Detrimental Association of Sitting Time with Mortality? A Harmonised Meta-Analysis of Data from More than 1 Million Men and Women.” The Lancet 388, no. 10051 (September 24, 2016): 1302–10.

Kallio, Petri, Katja Pahkala, Olli J. Heinonen, Tuija Tammelin, Mirja Hirvensalo, Risto Telama, Markus Juonala, et al. “Physical Inactivity from Youth to Adulthood and Risk of Impaired Glucose Metabolism.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 50, no. 6 (June 2018): 1192–98.

Katzmarzyk, Peter T., and I-Min Lee. “Sedentary Behaviour and Life Expectancy in the USA: A Cause-Deleted Life Table Analysis.” BMJ Open 2, no. 4 (2012).

Moore, Steven C., I-Min Lee, Elisabete Weiderpass, Peter T. Campbell, Joshua N. Sampson, Cari M. Kitahara, Sarah K. Keadle, et al. “Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults.” JAMA Internal Medicine 176, no. 6 (June 1, 2016): 816–25.

Reed, Jennifer L., Stephanie A. Prince, Cara G. Elliott, Kerri-Anne Mullen, Heather E. Tulloch, Swapnil Hiremath, Lisa M. Cotie, Andrew L. Pipe, and Robert D. Reid. “Impact of Workplace Physical Activity Interventions on Physical Activity and Cardiometabolic Health Among Working-Age Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes 10, no. 2 (February 2017).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.

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