Directly measured physical activity of adults, 2012 and 2013

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Results from the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) indicate that Canadian adults aged 18 to 79 spent on average a total of 4 hours and 11 minutes per day being physically active. Of the time spent being active, the majority was spent in light activity (3 hours and 46 minutes), and the remaining time in moderate-to-vigorous activity (MVPA) (25 minutes) (Chart 1). Out of those 25 minutes of MVPA, 12 minutes were done in periods of at least 10 minutes (data not shown). On average, adults spent 9 hours and 48 minutes of their waking time being sedentary.

A healthy, active lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity and minimizes sedentary time, contributes to the improvement of adult health and reduces the risk of premature death.Note 1 Living a sedentary lifestyle and having high amounts of daily sitting time are associated with higher mortality rates from many chronic conditions.Note 2 Physical activity has been shown to lower the risk for many chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, depression, stress and anxiety.Note 3 In fact, regular physical activity can reduce the risk for certain conditions by as much as 50%.Note 1 The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that to achieve health benefits, adults 18 and over should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, made up of time periods lasting at least 10 minutes (for more information see About physical activity).

Chart 1 Directly measured physical activity of adults, 2012 and 2013

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Total daily sedentary time was higher in older age groups. Adults aged 18 to 39 were sedentary for 9 hours 36 minutes and those aged 40 to 59 were sedentary for 9 hours and 49 minutes.  This is significantly less than those aged 60 to 79 who were sedentary for 10 hours and 8 minutes daily. Adults aged 18 to 39 were also the most active with an average of 34 minutes moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, compared to adults aged 40 to 59 (23 minutes of MVPA) and older adults aged 60 to 79 (14 minutes of MVPA). The average daily minutes of MVPA in 10-minute periods also declined with age (an average of 15 minutes for adults aged 18 to 39, 10 minutes for adults aged 40 to 59, and 8 minutes for adults aged 60 to 79) (data not shown).

Neither the time spent sedentary nor the time spent in moderate-to-vigorous activity were significantly different for males and females (Chart 1). However, males averaged significantly higher light activity (3 hours 55 minutes) than females (3 hours 37 minutes) (Chart 1).

In 2012 and 2013, approximately one in five adults achieved the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (in 10 minute periods) per week set out by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults and for older adults. The percentage of adults meeting the guidelines was lower in older age groups. Adults aged 18 to 39 (32%) were significantly more likely to meet the guidelines than those aged 40 to 59 (18%) or 60 to 79 (12%) (Chart 2). A total of 24% of males and 21% of females met the guidelines (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Directly measured physical activity of adults, 2012 and 2013

Description for chart 2

In general among all age groups, being overweight or obese was more common among those that did not meet the physical activity guidelines than it was among those that did (Chart 3). Although this trend exists for all age groups, the trend was only significant for the 60 to 79 age group.

Chart 3 Directly measured physical activity of adults, 2012 and 2013

Description for chart 3

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About physical activity

Data are from the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS cycle 3). The CHMS collected data from a nationally representative sample of Canadians aged 3 to 79 years from collection sites across Canada. Self-reported information was collected during a household interview while measured information was collected by a series of direct physical measurements as well as blood and urine samples taken at a mobile examination centre (MEC). Respondents at the MEC were provided with an activity monitor to wear for the week following their appointment. The activity monitor was worn on an elasticized belt over the right hip during all waking hours.

Activity monitors measure the amount of movement a person makes in order to determine the time spent in each physical activity intensity level:  light and moderate-to-vigorous. Examples of light physical activity include activities such as light household cleaning, cooking and leisurely walking. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is activity which causes a person to sweat and breathe harder or to be out of breath (e.g. brisk walking, bike riding, jogging, cross-country skiing).

Sedentary time is determined from periods of low movement on the activity monitor, which would typically correspond to any time spent sitting or lying down (e.g. watching television, office work, car travel).

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