Story at a glance

  • New research published in the journal Current Biology estimates that the average American does about 30 minutes less physical activity a day than an American in 1820.
  • Researchers used historical data on falling body temperature and changing metabolic rates in the U.S. to measure declining levels of physical activity.
  • The study found that resting metabolic rate — the total number of calories burned when the body is at rest — has fallen by about 6 percent over the last 200 years.

Americans are significantly less physically active than they were more than two centuries ago thanks to technology, and now researchers have calculated just by how much. 

New research published in the journal Current Biology estimates that the average American does about 30 minutes less physical activity a day than an American in 1820. While it’s been known that technological changes have reduced overall physical activity for modern people, the study is one of the first to calculate the decline. 

“Instead of walking to work, we take cars or trains; instead of manual labor in factories, we use machines,” Andrew K. Yegian, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Human and Evolutionary Biology and the study’s lead author, said in a statement


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“We’ve made technology to do our physical activity for us….Our hope is that this helps people think more about the long-term changes of activity that have come with our changes in lifestyle and technology,” Yegian said. 

Researchers used historical data on falling body temperature and changing metabolic rates in the U.S. to measure declining levels of physical activity since the industrial revolution. 

The study found that resting metabolic rate — the total number of calories burned when the body is at rest — has fallen by about 6 percent over the last 200 years. Researchers said that translates to about 27 minutes per day of less moderate to vigorous activity.


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Published on Oct 27, 2021