Only 5% of Americans do anything vigorous like running, biking or aerobics on a given day and preparing meals is the most common moderate physical activity, according to new research.
In a study that looked at the intensity of what Americans do daily, researchers found that exercise was not high on the list.
Americans, by far, favoured sedentary tasks such as making phone calls and grabbing a snack over activities that require them to actually get up and move.
"The greatest prevalence for reported moderate activities was food and drink preparation for both men and women," Catrine Tudor-Locke and her team said in a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Few report vigorous activity
"Overall only 5.07% report any vigorous intense activity."
The findings, by researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are based on US Bureau of Labour Statistics on the habits of nearly 80,000 people between 2003 and 2008.
The activities are divided into sedentary, light, moderate and vigorous.
Of the moderately intense tasks, the most common at 25.7% was preparing meals, which was below the 80% of people who cited watching television or going to the movies, or the 28% of people who read.
More in the kitchen
But the study shows that Americans are five times more likely to spend time in the kitchen than doing something physically demanding such as playing a sport or hiking, confirming the stereotype of Americans as couch potatoes.
Although the study does not reveal whether Americans are getting more or less exercise than before, Tudor-Locke said it will help scientists understand how Americans can change their habits.
"From a science point of view, we can make sure we have an understanding of the energy expended or just the benefits of these activities," she said in an interview.
Other common moderate activities included gardening, driving and cleaning the house. The least frequently reported vigorous endeavours were winter sports, soccer and hiking.
(Reuters Health, Phil Wahba, September 2010)