90+ Sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity statistics 2021 [Research Review]

Posted on 01 November, 2023 by Nicholas Rizzo

With only 53% of Americans meeting the recommended daily physical activities, it's now time to take a look at how sedentary we are as individuals. Based on data collected from over 20 sources, we have highlighted just how sedentary the global population has become and what are the health hazards of suffering from the sitting disease.

Global statistics on sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity

Worldwide, the percentage of sedentary individuals increased to 70% of the population because more people are on their mobile devices instead of doing some form of physical activity

Percentage of people who do not exercise

  • Based on data from Ipsos, 14% of the global participation do not exercise
  • The country with the most people who do not exercise is Japan with 34% of their population followed by:
    • 31% of Brazilians
    • 26% of Italians
    • 26% of Polish people
    • 22% of people from France
  • When gender is considered Italian and Brazilian women only spend 2.7 hours per week exercising followed by women from:
    • Japan - 2.8 hours
    • Chile - 3 hours
    • Mexico - 3.2 hours
    • France - 3.3 hours
    • Poland - 3.8 hours
  • As for men, Brazilians also top the list of least hours spent exercising per week at 3.4 hours followed by:
    • Japan - 3.9 hours
    • France - 4.2 hours
    • Poland - 4.4 hours
    • Italy and Chile - 4.5 hours
    • South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina - 5 hours

The cost of physical inactivity

The global cost of physical inactivity is:

  • $54 billion in healthcare-related expenditure
  • $13.7 billion in productivity losses because of death associated with inactivity
  • $24 billion is spent on medical bills that were a direct result of being sedentary 

The effect of the pandemic on physical activity

The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the general physical inactivity of people with 

  • 78% of Iranians said they did not meet physical activity guidelines, up from 33% pre-pandemic
  • 79.4% of Brazilians also reported a decrease in physical activity levels
  • About 27% of Americans have been physically less active since the start of the pandemic
  • In 202, the US, 82.1 million people aged 6 and over do not engage in other physical activities aside from their daily chores

Decreased daily steps

Globally, the number of steps taken has decreased dramatically since the start of the pandemic:

  • In the first 10 days of the pandemic declaration in 2020, daily steps taken decreased by 5% or 287 steps
  • Within 30 days, daily steps decreased by 27.3%, or 1,432 steps
  • In Italy, where the biggest outbreak happened in March 2020, daily steps decreased by 48.7%
  • On the other hand, for countries that did not impose a lockdown, like Sweden, the decrease in daily steps was only 6.9%

Non-participation in sports

  • 38% of the global population do not participate in any type of sports
  • The top 5 countries whose population is not keen on team sport participation are:
    • 61% of Americans do not participate
    • 59% of Britons
    • 56% of Canadians
    • 55% of Australians
    • 55% of Japanese people
  • Countries that would like to play less sports, Malaysia tops the list at 19%, followed by India at 18%
  • Meanwhile, 62% of Americans are happy with how much time they play sports and would neither increase nor decrease it followed by 
    • The Japanese at 58%
    • Australians at 56%
    • Britons at 55%
    • Canadians at 51%

Reasons why people don't do sports

Reasons why people don't participate in any type of sports

  • Lack of time - 37%, common reason in people from:
    • Saudi Arabia - 51%
    • Peru - 48%
    • Russia - 47%
  • No barriers, just not interested - 22%, common reason in people from:
    • Japan - 40%
    • US - 37%
    • UK - 33%
    • Canada - 32% 
  • Lack of money - 18%, common reason in people from:
    • Turkey - 33%
    • Argentina - 30%
    • South Africa - 25%
    • Russia - 25%
  • Weather (too hot or too cold) - 17%, common reason in people from:
    • Saudi Arabia - 38%
    • South Africa - 38%

Health risks due to a sedentary lifestyle

  • Sitting for 8 hours a day or longer increases your chance of developing cardiovascular disease by 147% and 22% of coronary heart diseases
  • Prolonged sedentary time also increases your chance of dying from heart disease by 18%
  • Increased risk of developing high blood pressure by as much as 20 to 30% for those who do not do regular exercise
  • 80% of diabetes cases have been associated with increased sedentary time and poor diet
  • Inactivity also increases the risk for developing certain types of cancers such as:
    • Colon cancer - 24%
    • Endometrial cancer (women) - 24%
    • Lung cancer - 21%

Deaths due to a sedentary lifestyle

  • According to the World Health Organisation, 2 million deaths per year are associated with physical inactivity
  • Being sedentary increases the mortality rate by 71%
  • 35% of coronary heart disease mortality is because of prolonged periods of sedentary time
  • 20% of premature death of people aged 35 and older are associated with inactivity

Sitting disease

  • In 2021, Americans spend an average of 11 hours a day sitting with:
    • 65% of them spend 2 or more hours a day watching tv 
  • According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the length of time spent sitting in a day affects a person's overall activity or lack thereof. From 2015 to 2016: 
    • 25.7% of Americans spend more than 8 hours a day sitting and in that group, 44.6% of them are considered inactive
    • 11.2% spend 4 to 6 hours sitting and 9.6 to 13% reported being inactive
    • 2.7% spend 4 hours or less sitting per day and only 2 to 3.6% are said to be inactive
  • To give more context:
    • About 1 in 4 Americans sit for 8 hours a day or longer
    • 4 in 10 Americans are reportedly inactive
    • And 1 in 10 Americans reported both sitting for 8 hours a day or longer and being inactive
  • To combat sitting disease, it is recommended that you do moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week or 3 to 5 times a week
    • If pinched for time, you can opt to do a vigorous-intensity workout for at least 75 minutes a week, or 3 to 5 times a week

Inactivity based on economic background

According to various resources, high-income countries (HIC) are more likely to be physically inactive

  • Kuwait, which is the 5th richest country in the world has a population that is 67% sedentary; other  HIC countries with a sedentary population include:
    • Portugal - 43%
    • US - 40%
  • Costa Rica, an upper-middle-income country has an inactive population of 46%
  • Meanwhile, low-income countries like Uganda are the most physically active, with only 5.5% of their population reporting a sedentary lifestyle, other countries with very low physical inactivity are:
    • Mozambique - 5.6%
    • Lesotho - 6%
    • Myanmar - 10%

Jobs with the most physically inactive workers

  • According to the Bureau of Labour and Statistics, Americans who work as software developers spend 90% of their work hours sitting on their desks; other jobs that are less physically active include:
    • Drivers (public and private transportation) - 82.4%
    • Accountants - 80.7%
    • Insurance sales agents - 80.3%
    • Lawyers - 75.9%
    • Human resource managers - 75.4%
    • Mechanical engineers - 73.7%
    • Librarians - 53.3%
    • Emergency medical technicians and paramedics - 52.5% 

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RunRepeat prioritises objectivity and it is exactly what is reflected in our shoe reviews because 1) we buy them with our own money 2) we do test runs, hikes, matches, and games in them and 3) we cut them in half in our lab and subject them to dozens of lab tests. You can learn more about shoes by visiting our shoe guides page.

Use of content

  • If you want to know more about the sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity statistics, feel free to reach out to Nick Rizzo at nick@runrepeat.com. He'd be happy to answer questions. Nick is also available to do interviews.
  • Data from this research review is free to use in any online publication. Our only request is for you to link back to this original source.























Nicholas Rizzo
Nicholas Rizzo
Nick combines 10+ years of experience in the health and fitness industry and a background in the sciences in his role as the Fitness Research Director. During his competitive powerlifting years his PRs have him sitting in the top 2% of bench presses (395 lbs), top 3% of squats (485 lbs) and top 6% of deadlifts (515 lbs) for his weight and age. His work has been featured on Bodybuilding.com, LiveStrong, Healthline, WebMD, WashingtonPost, and many more. Along the way, collaborating with industry leaders like Michael Yessis, Mark Rippetoe, Carlo Buzzichelli, Dave Tate, Ray Williams, and Joel Seedman.