When it comes to time, the way we think we spend our minutes often bears little resemblance to how we actually spend them. We work less than we think. We sleep more than we think. We spend a lot less time doing the dishes than we claim on surveys.
It turns out this curious facet of human nature extends to exercise. I’d come across a study years ago tracking the number of times people claimed to go to the gym with their actual check in logs at the front desk. Even though people knew their access was recorded, they still claimed to go to the gym much more frequently than they did.
Now a new study out of Norway (reported in the January issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise) likewise compared people’s estimated activity with actual movement. Roughly 1700 men and women were given questionnaires, and also accelerometers, which are activity monitors that people wear on their wrists.
Comparing the survey answers with the actual monitored activity, it turns out that people overestimate moderate physical activity (e.g. walking) by close to an hour (per day, it seems, though it’s hard to tell from the Wall Street Journal write-up I found this in). They didn’t claim much “vigorous” physical activity (20 minutes for men, 12 minutes for women), but they were still way off. The actual vigorous activity (again, I think per day) was 2.9 minutes for men and 2.4 minutes for women. People also underestimated their sedentary time by about 2 hours.
Well, so what? People lie. Breaking news! I think it’s interesting because the CDC does various surveys to see if Americans are getting the amount of physical exercise they should. The aerobic component (2.5 hours a week, or about 30 minutes per day) always does pretty well. About half of Americans supposedly get that. But this is self-reported, and if Americans are like Norwegians, we may be overestimating even moderate activity. We think we’re the kind of people who walk around, even if most of those steps involved walking to the car in the garage, and from the couch to the fridge.
I personally am not doing so well on activity at the moment. How about you? How much movement do you get in a good week — and in a not-so-good week?