Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Do Americans spend too much time indoors?

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 5/10/17

Dan Moser
A newspaper article recently reported a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey stated, “On average, Americans spend 95 percent of their time indoors.”

What? That can’t be true, can it? Even taking into account bad weather in many parts of the country for extended periods, wouldn’t places like Florida and other Sunbelt locations negate some of the time spent indoors due to harsh climate?

My disbelief was similar to a statistic I happened upon years ago indicating the average daily distance walked by Americans was less than ¼ mile. Only ¼ mile? Walking to the bathroom, refrigerator and mailbox would add up to more, so how could that be? A recent study, though, by the American College of Sports Medicine ( estimated the current distance to be 2½ miles, about half the minimum distance Centers for Disease Control suggests one should cover each day.

A sunset view from the Edison Bridge. It’s one of the few
major bridges with pedestrian access in Lee County.
Whatever the case, we’re still lagging in getting enough daily physical activity.

Getting back to the time spent outdoors, 5 percent equates to 1.2 hours daily. Assuming sleep and indoor downtime just prior and after sleeping takes 12 hours from a 24-hour time period that makes it closer to 10 percent of practical time. Looking at it that way makes it less astonishing than at first glance, but still less than I’d expect to be the case for anyone who’s not hindered by serious health conditions or mobility limitations.

As is the case with so many suburban-style American communities, Lee County has a very low percentage of population that walks, use bicycles or take transit to work or for other practical purposes.

This fact limits potential outdoor physical activity that would occur merely by the daily act of getting around. The allure of air-conditioned comfort also entices many to exercise indoors, walking on treadmills and cycling on spinning bikes rather in the elements. But even taking those reasons and many others into account doesn’t seem significant enough to end up with the 1.2-hour average.

A few examples come to mind that make it even harder to buy into the statistic. Workers such as landscapers, road workers and roofers may spend eight hours of a 24-hour period under the sun. Letter carriers and delivery vehicle drivers are frequently in and out of their vehicles, perhaps spending one-third of their shift in the direct elements. Many office workers walk to lunch or take breaks outdoors, sometimes sneaking out for an exercise walk. Other than kids who are chauffeured by their parents, students going to and from school — as well as while in physical education classes, recess, and extracurricular sports — spend significant time outside. Anyone who runs or walks for fitness or recreation will spend anywhere from 30 minutes or more on that activity alone, not counting warm-up and cool-down time; the same goes for cyclists.

Folks with swimming pools and who enjoy the beach all do so outdoors. And what about the many golfers in our area? At least locally, it seems like the average of 1.2 hours a day outside seems extremely low.

The survey looked only at employed individuals between 25 and 54 years of age and who had children so such a study group would have a significant effect on the outcome; having childless folks, kids and retirees excluded as subjects likely reduced the average amount of time spent outdoors to well below what would be the case if those groups were part of the study.

As I looked even further into the study I found other elements and facts that make it difficult to substantiate the 1.2-hour statistic, even when based only on that study group. That being the case, I have to conclude the average American spends much less than 22.8 hours indoors. Hopefully the current positive fitness and physical activity trends will continue so that remains the case.

Healthy Lee is working to help make that trend not only endure but improve with its latest challenge, the 5210 Plan. The numbers stand for 5 vegetables and fruits a day; no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time (computers, TV and other electronic devices) a day; at least 1 hour of physical activity per day; and 0 sugary beverages each day. Details and more information about this four-month challenge can be found at and ¦
- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

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