Report: 80% of Americans are insufficiently active

Four out of every five American adults and children are not moving enough.

woman holding plank pose
Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde / Unsplash
  • According to researchers at the US Department of Health and Human Services, 80% of Americans don't exercise enough.
  • Lack of exercise is attributed to $117 billion in annual health care costs.
  • With more duties being automated and outsourced to AI, we're losing our sense of agency.

The annoyance of automated messages when trying to talk to a human at your bank or doctor's office is dwindling as AI software becomes more "human." Or, at least, less like software. Responsive robots have infiltrated every facet of life. According to the NY Times, this new wave of voice-automated products do not pretend to be human, as humans reportedly don't like deception, no matter how much they talk to their toys as sentient friends.

How we interact with software is also changing our physical landscape:

Service workers, sales agents, telemarketers — it's not hard to imagine how millions of jobs that require social interaction, whether on the phone or online, could eventually be eliminated by code.

Sure, such positions are largely hidden from us, yet automation is also changing retail, where the potential for interacting with actual human beings is going through a similar shift. Not that we pay much attention to those agents either: take one look at a retail line and find most people staring at their phones, barely paying attention to the human in front of them. Still, the lack of physicality points to another disturbing trend.

In a new special communication published in JAMA, researchers from the US Department of Health and Human Services reveal a startling figure: 80 percent of US adults and adolescents are insufficiently active.

Government guidelines state that adults should partake in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, alongside at least two strengthening workouts. Children need a bit more. Those between ages six and seventeen should be getting their heart rate up at least an hour a day, alongside three strengthening routines per week. This is simply what our bodies demand.

You don't have to hit the gym to accomplish these goals. Some recommend activities include gardening, climbing stairs instead of taking elevators or escalators, and purposefully parking a distance away from your destination in order to walk, which was part of Bruce Lee's philosophy a half-century ago.

As the researchers write, the health benefits of exercise are tremendous, which is not surprising. What is surprising is how little we actually move. We've constructed society in such a way to allow for as little physical exertion as possible, a true anomaly in the history of our species. It's no wonder we suffer from so many preventable diseases; our physiology is crying for stimulation, which we neglect at every turn.

Just a very few of the benefits, from the report (their lists are much longer):

  • Improved bone health and weight status for children aged 3 through 5 years
  • Improved cognitive function for youth aged 6 to 13 years
  • Reduced risk of cancer at additional sites
  • Brain health benefits, including improved cognitive function, reduced anxiety and depression risk, and improved sleep and quality of life
  • Reduced risk of fall-related injuries for older adults
  • For pregnant women, reduced risk of excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression
  • For people with various chronic medical conditions, reduced risk of all-cause and disease-specific mortality, improved function, and improved quality of life

Photo: Emma Simpson / Unsplash

In the United States alone, lack of exercise accounts for $117 billion annually in health care costs. Ten percent of premature mortality is associated with inactivity. To combat this, one's movement vocabulary should include aerobic activities, such as running, cycling, swimming, or climbing; loading your muscle groups with some form of weight; bone-strengthening activities, which include jumping and running; and balancing, as you would do in yoga. Not including any of these results in a malnourished exercise diet.

But we know this already. Our skyrocketing obesity, depression, and anxiety rates are all associated with a lack of exercise, all of which lead to more disease and discomfort. Knowing and doing are separate domains of expertise, however. Many people know they should exercise more, yet without motivation they contribute to the statistics above.

Sadly, as we become more dependent on voice-activated software and other applications of AI, we take less agency of our physicality. Driving requires an immense amount of concentration, one we're gladly willing to outsource to our car's computers. Even seemingly mundane tasks, such as opening a screen to change your playlist, can now be handed over to Alexa. A few clicks of a mouse is not exactly exercise, but it does take us one step further away from doing.

That's always been our challenge since the Industrial Revolution, bridging the gap between knowledge and action. That divide is widening. That four of five people don't move enough to achieve basic health requirements is a public health crisis. Until we treat it as such, it's unlikely we'll cross this growing divide.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

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Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
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