You know that woman in your office who says she runs five miles every morning and lifts weights three times a week?
Turns out she might be exaggerating.
In reality, Philadelphians don’t exercise a whole lot compared with folks in other large U.S. cities, according to an analysis of 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month by ChamberOfCommerce.org. The organization writes reviews on marketing and financing for small businesses and isn’t affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Researchers calculated the share of adults who self-reported to the CDC how often they participate in leisure-time physical activity such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking for exercise. Such exertions help forestall obesity, diabetes, and depression.
In Philadelphia, 68% of adults reported engaging in physical activity. That places them 40th on a list of 49 cities with populations of 350,000 or more. We cheesesteak idolaters are sandwiched (hoagie-ed?) between Wichita, Kan. (39th at 70.1%) and Milwaukee (41st at 69.3%).
At No. 1, Seattle residents — despite clouds and rain — exercise the most at a rate of 84.7%. The people of Cleveland , are last at an exercise rate of 61.7%. The list goes only to 49 because those were the cities for which full data were available.
A few people were offended by the conclusion that Philly residents don’t exert themselves sufficiently.
“Geez, they’re always calling us the saddest city for one thing or another,” said Todd Scott, 57, owner of Platoon Fitness, a Center City gym. “But if people weren’t working out, how could someone like me be in business? You see people running all the time.” (A lot of outdoor jogging picked up across America when gyms closed during the worst of the pandemic, experts say.)
The report is “complete b.s.” according to Mark Berman, a 51-year-old South Philadelphia graphic designer and a runner. He said there’s a little-seen kinetic community of runners who clog the streets in the early-morning hours, while the weak and flabby among us hit the snooze button, contemplating breakfasts of syrup-soaked pancakes.
“Over the years, there’s been an exponential increase in the number of runners,” said Berman, citing the growing popularity of running clubs. “That study — I just don’t buy it.”
Still, for some, the news that our neighbors aren’t as into sit-ups as those residing in the Emerald City didn’t register as such a shock.
“You know, I’ve noticed that other sports teams’ mascots are in better shape than ours,” said bar owner William Reed, 54, of Fishtown. “I think the reason we have Gritty is our acceptance of a come-as-you-are look.” Certainly, the genial rotundity of the Phillie Phanatic suggests , he said, that “most of us can recognize something of ourselves in Gritty and the Phanatic.”
Perry Coco is not much into mascots, but he believes the report has him pegged.
“I don’t work out anymore,” said Coco, 64, of South Philadelphia, who’s retired from the construction industry. “As I got older, it got harder. You get ailments: knees, back — I have it all.
“Now my sons-in-law, they work a full day, then go to the gym for three hours. I wish I had that drive. I tell them, ‘Why not just take a shower after work and lie down?’”
Coco and others noted that Philadelphia is known as a big cycling burg, but, according to WalkScore, it doesn’t crack the top 10 most bike-friendly cities.
Overall, Terri Lipman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, said that the ChamberOfCommerce.org analysis “is no real surprise.”
In an evaluation of 250 local elementary school students by Penn Nursing, Lipman learned that many kids simply don’t have safe play spaces. She added, “Children spend too much time looking at screens and insufficient time in gym and sports classes in school.”
Noting that Philadelphia is the poorest of the largest U.S. cities, Lipman said people living in poverty face “multiple pressing issues.” Physical activity requires attention to self-care, which is difficult when that’s competing with other survival responsibilities layered onto a person, she said.
Individuals with higher incomes are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than their lower-income counterparts, according to the ChamberOfCommerce.org analysis.
It’s important to note that people don’t need to run to be fit, said Sara Kovacs, a Temple University professor of instruction with expertise in exercise and sport science. “Briskly walking for five to 10 minutes and regularly accruing that has benefits,” she said.
But that’s not always easy, either, Kovacs acknowledged.
Tianna Gaines-Turner, 43, who works for a nonprofit that helps people with housing and other issues, said her low-income neighborhood in the Northeast isn’t conducive to outdoor exercise, especially for her children.
“To be honest, the parks around here have been redone and some are really nice. But they’re very unsafe,” she said. “We have shootouts in the middle of the day. I want my children to play on swings, but I don’t want them ducking bullets.”
For years, it’s been clear to Selena Earley that Philadelphians don’t exercise enough.
So, for 18 years, she and her husband, David, 60, have been teaching Zumba, as well as line and hip-hop dancing to children and adults in West Philadelphia at Inthedance,llc. The group is part of Dance for Health, a collaboration with the Penn School of Nursing to improve physical activity.
Sometimes, she said, kids are the toughest challenge. “I think they’d rather have cellphones in front of them, but we make the beats fast and the music loud,” said Earley, 57. “They get excited and like to learn.”
It’s best to start young people exercising early, experts say.
Otherwise, as Dom Episcopo, a 55-year-old commercial photographer in Fishtown, says — and as much as Philadelphia obviously agrees — “it’ll always be hard to find motivation to exercise, and easy to find reasons to avoid it — raw but true.”