Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of inactive adults in the country, a new study shows.
It’s among seven states and one territory, Puerto Rico, where 30% or more adults were physically inactive, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other states include West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.
Being physically active has a host of benefits: it can balance your weight, improve your mood, help you sleep, strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, said Michelle Lessell of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
But Oklahoma’s high rates of inactivity are, unfortunately, unsurprising, she said.
“That’s been a focus of public health programs like mine for a while,” said Lessell, the Health Department’s supervisor for the county’s Healthy Living Program, a community-based grant that focuses on reducing tobacco use and obesity by working with businesses, local governments, schools and other community organizations.
Oklahoma’s infrastructure is designed for traveling by car, Lessell said. Even with efforts to improve walkability, those changes take time, she said.
As part of the Healthy Living Program grant, which is funded by TSET, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the department recently completed a community needs survey that included some questions about inactivity. It found that a very small share of people walk or ride a bike to do things like going to the doctor or the grocery store, Lessell said.
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The survey also asked Oklahoma County residents whether certain changes could help them live more active lives.
“Almost all of the things that we suggested, the numbers were very supportive saying ‘Yes, it would help,’” Lessell said. “The top three were if there were parks more available closer to their home, more walking trails and bike paths, and more sidewalks connecting places that they’d like to go. All of those had response rates of over 80% yes.”
Oklahoma, like many other states, also saw higher rates of physical inactivity among some minority groups compared to the state’s overall rates. For example, about 33.5% of non-Hispanic Black adults in Oklahoma were physically inactive, and about 35.3% of Hispanic adults were inactive.
“Those disparities are definitely here as well,” Lessell said. “What’s causing that is a very complex issue — you can’t just pinpoint it to saying it’s an individual factor like low motivation or willingness to exercise.”
People of color may have less access to safe and convenient places to be physically active, and that may contribute to those disparities in physical activity, according to the CDC.
“The bottom line is, as a county, as a state and even as a country, we need to continue to work to remove any kind of barriers, to provide universal access to opportunities for physical activity,” Lessell said.
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Incorporating more activity into your life doesn’t have to mean making drastic changes: start small, Lessell said.
“Somebody who’s starting brand new, I wouldn’t say, go start training for a marathon if you haven’t done Couch to 5K first,” she said.
Finding ways to move more could look like walking in place while watching TV at home, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or making a point to take breaks at work to get up from your desk and walk around.
Here are some local resources with ideas about how to move more:
Shape Your Future has information about healthy eating and getting active, including many ideas for how to get physical activity in at home. (shapeyourfutureok.com)
Keep Moving OKC has a calendar of free fitness events and classes around the Oklahoma City area, including some virtual classes. (keepmovingokc.org)
For any organization that wants to learn more about the Healthy Living Program through OCCHD, call 405-425-4498.