How Weather Can Influence Fitness

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD

A comparison of weather conditions with self-reported physical activity levels in over 350 counties in the U.S. revealed that residents of northern states with relatively cool, dry summers are the most likely to get the recommended amount of exercise.

The researchers looked at data from weather stations across the country that included air temperature, dew point temperature, wind speed direction, sea level pressure, and total cloud cover. They also analyzed responses about exercise habits from over 350 adults who took part in a national telephone survey sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and individual states and territories.

The recommended level of activity was defined as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking, household chores, or gardening) five to seven days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity (such as running or aerobics classes) three to seven days a week.

The states with the highest percentage of residents getting the recommended amount of exercise were:

  1. Montana (with 60.9% of residents meeting the criteria),
  2. Utah (59.2%), Wisconsin (57.9%), and
  3. New Hampshire (55.9%).

Lowest levels of physical activity were reported in:

  1. Puerto Rico (30.9%),
  2. Hawaii (36.4%),
  3. North Carolina (37.4%), and
  4. Kentucky (37.6%).

The study showed that high levels of residents meeting recommended criteria for physical activity were related to:

  • moist moderate conditions in winter,
  • dry polar conditions in spring (dry with little cloud cover),
  • dry tropical conditions in summer (warm and sunny), and
  • moist polar conditions in fall (moist air with cloud cover and precipitation).

The low levels of physical activity were linked with muggy, hot, humid conditions.

The researchers admit that the data may have been slightly influenced by the fact that many athletes move to the geographic areas best suited for their particular sport. Still, the data argue that public health programs in some geographic regions should address ways to promote fitness when many residents feel uncomfortable participating in outdoor activities. The elderly and those with chronic illness are particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat and humidity when exercising.

If, like me, you live in an area where weather conditions are often prohibitive for outdoor exercise, you can learn to vary your workout and investigate options for indoor exercise when temperatures soar. In addition to programs at indoor fitness facilities and gyms, you can try investing in home exercise equipment, walking or running in the early morning or late evening, and walking in indoor venues such as shopping malls. One hospital in my city with miles of indoor corridors offers a fitness walking route. For a change of pace, you can fit in some exercise at indoor ice skating rinks or racquet clubs. If you still want some outdoor activity, try swimming, water aerobics, or jogging in the pool.

Reference: Merrill R. Climate conditions and physical activity in the United States. American Journal of Health Behavior 29(4), 2005.

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