According to One Study, We Have a Tendency to Overestimate the Amount of Physical Activity We Get

An international study that was led by the University of Southern California has shown that people tend to overestimate their level of physical activity when compared to how physically active they actually are. It would appear that the way things are seen and the way things actually are are very different. People in the United States mistakenly believe that they are as engaged as those in Europe, whereas people of a certain age believe that they are on par with those of a younger generation.

For the purpose of the study, the researchers attached fitness bands to the wrists of 748 people from the Netherlands, 254 people from England, and 540 people from the United States. On a scale from inactive to highly active, men and women were asked to rate their level of physical activity over the course of a week. The categories included inactive, mildly active, moderately active, and active.

The study found only slight variations in the data that people self-reported from different countries. However, the actual data demonstrated a very different picture overall. In point of fact, individuals from the Netherlands and England were significantly more engaged in the activity than people from the United States. In point of fact, as compared to peers in Europe, the proportion of Americans who fall into the “inactive” group is almost twice as high.

Both the Dutch and the English placed themselves closer to the middle of the scale on their own self-ratings, with very few people placing themselves at either end of the range. It’s interesting that most Americans said they were either very active or not at all active, even though Americans as a whole are much less active. 

Arie Kapteyn, the main author of the study and the person in charge of figuring out what it all means, says that it shows that people from different countries or different age groups can have very different ideas about the same survey questionnaire.

The discrepancies in activity levels are thought to have been caused, at least in part, by cultural and environmental factors, according to the researchers. For instance, although most people in the United States rely on their vehicles to get around, the Dutch commonly ride their bicycles to work and to run errands throughout the day.

When older people were compared to younger ones, a picture that was very close to the original emerged. A study of the data collected by fitness trackers by age group found that individuals’ levels of physical activity decrease with increasing age across all three countries, but especially among older Americans. Compared to the people on the other side of the pond, about 42% of the people in the Netherlands and 32% of the people in England were judged to be inactive.

However, there was a disparity between what people believed and what was actually the case, with older people self-reporting higher levels of activity than they actually have. People who said they were “extremely active” or “very inactive” were the most different from each other.

Kapteyn went on to say that “individuals in various age categories just have different criteria of what it implies to be physically active.”

They change their expectations based on their age and other things going on in their lives.

The study also shows the risk of using self-reported information in health studies, which is something that should be avoided. The field of science needs accurate measurements because movement is one of the most important parts of a healthy life.

The findings were published in the edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that was released on April 11, 2018.

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