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Most of us have much more free time than we think

A sweeping new survey reveals that Americans on average have a surprising amount of leisure time.

I don't know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to fit exercise into my schedule. I mean, I do it, but whimpering all the while … “I am too busy! … “I don't have enough time!” … I am perpetually Alice's white rabbit (albeit in running clothes) late for a very important date. Which is a bummer because exercise is one of the best things we can do to ward off poor health and all of the costs that come with it.

And I am not alone.

“There is a general perception among the public and even public health professionals that a lack of leisure time is a major reason that Americans do not get enough physical activity,” said Dr. Deborah Cohen, a physician researcher at RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.

Many of us think we are too busy to exercise, or do much else in terms of extracurricular leisure, for that matter – cooking at home and reading come to mind. But what if … what if we weren't as busy as we think we are?

Well, according to a new study from RAND, most of us have oodles of spare time! They found that Americans have on average more than 5 hours of free time each day. Looking at the findings by age and race, they found no group reported less than 4.5 hours of free time per day. Though, yes, “Men reported having more than a half-hour of additional free time each day than women.”

The study analyzed information from the American Time Use Survey which was conducted over the course of two years (2014 to 2016) – it included information from a representative sample and included more than 32,000 people in the United States, aged 15 and older.

The researchers were kind enough to refine their definition of free time to exclude non-work activities like self-care, household activities, and taking care of the family (things like grooming, shopping and playing with children). Meaning that even after work and life's other responsibilities were accounted for, we still had more-or-less five hours of free time.

And while so many of us say we have no time for exercise, can you guess what we are finding time for? You know the answer:

“…they spend most of that time looking at screens (televisions, phones or other devices) with no gender or economic group spending even 7% of their free time on physical activity.”

In a way I can understand how it happens. Screen time creates some kind of physics phenomenon that seems to warp time and devour little bits of life in snippets and chunks. I feel like I hardly ever look at my phone, and then I see my weekly screen time and think, “What? How is that possible?”

It's fascinating, and this research is really pretty illuminating. Eight percent of deaths in the U.S. each year may be attributed to insufficient exercise – and only 53 percent of Americans meet the recommended guidelines of moderate or vigorous activity for 150 minutes each week. That's just 21.5 minutes a day – now that we know we actually have five extra hours a day, we can go exercise for 21.5 minutes and still have hours and hours of time left. It's brilliant!

“Increasing the public's awareness of how they actually use their time and creating messages that encourage Americans to reduce their screen time may help people to become more physically active,” Cohen said. “These findings suggest getting Americans to devote at least 20 or 30 minutes each day to physical activity is feasible.”

The research was published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

A sweeping new survey reveals that Americans on average have a surprising amount of leisure time.