In the earliest days of the U.S., the frontier was a tough place to live. Surely more than one pioneer, upon reaching the rushing and roiling Mississippi River, turned to his wagon-mates and said, with a wave of his hand, "Yeah, this looks like a nice place to settle, let's call it a day."
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Whatever heartiness allowed people to settle successfully in the West may have been diluted by internal migration during the past two centuries, but to get an idea of how much different states vary in their residents' fitness levels, MainStreet looked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, 2010.
The report addresses a number of characteristics related to fitness -- both behavioral indicators (how often you exercise) and environmental (how many parks and playgrounds there are in the area, etc.) -- but boils down the principal ranking to the "proportion of adults in the state who achieve at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity."
Here we look at the 10 states at the bottom of that list, so that the couch potatoes can go about addressing the problem.
As the CDC says, "When state officials, health professionals, nonprofit organizations, urban planners, parks and recreation representatives, school staff, transportation officials, and community members work together, their efforts can increase the number of Americans who live healthier lives, by creating communities that support and encourage physical activity."
Physically active adults: 51.8%
Taking the top spot as the laziest state in the union is Tennessee, where just more than half -- 51.8% -- of the adult population report at least two and a half hours of physical activity per week. The state also played host to one of the most notorious expanding waistlines in pop culture, as Elvis Presley spent his last years in Memphis in a spiral of drug abuse, overeating, and, yes, general laziness. The only ray of sunshine for energetic Tennesseeans who would rather see their state off this list altogether, the CDC found that 24.3% of the state's high school students report moderate physical activity, a comforting statistic in light of the 17.1% national average.
Physically active adults: 56%
In a state known for decadent beignets and the "po boy," a foot-long submarine sandwich slathered in gravy and, sometimes, tartar sauce, only 56% of adults report moderate to vigorous physical activity with any kind of regularity. While there is no data in the CDC report for physical activity among high school students, one detail stands out as a possible indicator of the future fitness of Louisianans: only 35.5% of the state's youth have parks, community centers and sidewalks in the neighborhood, far below the national average of 50%.
Physically active adults: 57.2%
Kicking off the top three is Mississippi, home to the purported descendants of some of the aforementioned lazy pioneers. Indeed, the state ranks number one for the proportion of its adults who report "no leisure-time physical activity" at 32.4%. That's almost a third of adults who are not embarrassed to report to the CDC that they get basically no regular physical exercise. It also ranks number one for the prevalence of obesity, as a 2009 CDC report registered 34.4% of Mississippi's population as obese, the highest of any state.
Physically active adults: 57.9%
Kentucky, whether it wants to or not, is known throughout the world for its fried chicken recipe popularized by Col. Sanders. While deep-fried anything is delicious, it should really be enjoyed with a side dish of vigorous exercise. Unfortunately for most Kentuckians, there doesn't seem to be as many opportunities to get that exercise as there should be: The CDC reports that only 10.1% of census blocks have a park, half the national average of 20.3%.
Physically active adults: 59%
The first state on our list to fall below 60% of adults who exercise is Alabama, a state that was also in the top 10 for obesity in 2009, with fully 31% of the population defined as obese. The numbers aren't surprising when considering a few other characteristics that the CDC highlighted in its report: Alabama does not require or recommend elementary schools to provide scheduled recess, its child care centers don't specify moderate or vigorous physical activity, and the state doesn't support urban design, land use and transportation policies that promote physical activity. These facts don't bode well for the future fitness of the state, and the lack of data on high school students suggests officials take a closer look at the "heart of Dixie."
6. North Carolina
Physically active adults: 60.9%
North Carolina is an interesting state in terms of its characteristics of physical activity. At number six, not even 61% of North Carolinian adults report much exercise, but in other ways the state seems to be addressing the problem. Fewer adults report no physical activity than the national average (24.5% as opposed to 25.4% of American adults in general), and young people are quite active, with 24.5% of high school students reporting moderate physical activity compared to the 17.1% for the nation as a whole.