AMERICAN DOWNTIME:  A Surprising Look At What We Do When We’re Not Working by Hampton Rhodes

AMERICAN DOWNTIME: A Surprising Look At What We Do When We’re Not Working

Baseball (playing it or watching it) may have been America’s top pastime activity during most of the first half of the 21st century, but subsequent technology has changed our leisure time activities drastically. Americans today are more likely to be seen watching TV or tapping a screen than swinging a bat. American’s love for entertainment and interaction has pushed television, online activities and video gaming to the top of the charts as to how we spend our off-work hours.

In the 1983 movie, “The Big Chill,” we watched 20-somethings play a game of backyard football with old friends and we all related to that movie — partly because this activity was so familiar to us. We were still active. We still enjoyed the outdoors frequently. We still hadn’t yet surrendered our lives to the onslaught of electronics permeating all of our waking hours.

With the onslaught of indoor entertainment and video games, Americans have rapidly changed their leisure time activities to be more indoor than outdoor. In the early 70s Atari was the most popular video arcade game. In the 80s, personal gaming consoles with joysticks became popular along with gaming computers, early online gaming and handheld LCD games. We are now in our 8th generation of online video gaming consoles, and by publication, we may be on our ninth. The astounding growth within this industry of manufacturers, players and participants is absolutely mind boggling, with over 58% of the American population engaging in some form of electronic gaming every day, and a multi-billion dollar global market.

The Physical Activity Council reports that as of 2015, only 31.2% of Americans above the age of 6 years are active to a healthy level and beyond to a high-calorie burning level of activity. The three most popular physical activities are Fitness/Sports at 61.5%, Outdoor Sports at 48.4% and Individual Sports at 34.8%. The lowest sporting activity in their survey were Team Sports (23.1%) followed by Water Sports (14.2%), Racquet Sports (13.5%) and finally, seasonal Winter Sports (7.4%).

Not surprisingly younger people — below the age of 15 — are more active in almost all categories of sports than their elders, with the notable exception of the individual fitness sports category.


And not surprisingly again, household income plays a significant role in active participation of sporting activity with the most physically active household income range being the $75,000 to $100,000 range, with this reader’s assumption that the higher the income, the higher the educational level and awareness of the health benefits of physical activity, PLUS the affordability of participation at the higher income level. But what did surprise me was that households with incomes over $100,000 were more inactive than the $75K to $100K group.

Interestingly enough, in recent studies reporting in the media, since 2010, and through 2017 the happiest people in America are in families with household incomes of right around $75,000. And even more interesting, based on global studies tracking disposable income levels of household incomes, this rate of about $15,000 to $20,000 total disposable income per household fits within the normal range of disposable income percentages globally.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, staying active through exercise can boost your moods and improve your sex life. Regular exercise can make you feel better, have more energy and even add years to your life. It can help prevent high blood-pressure and reduce one’s risk of heart disease including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, a number of types of cancer, arthritis and falls.


So get up off of that couch; step away from the computer; and put that cell phone down. Whether it is golf, hiking, snow skiing or even just walking at the mall — the point is to stay active, keep that blood pumping and stay in motion for as long as you can.

The History of Video Games
2016 Participation Report
Physical Activity Council
Infographic: What are America’s Favorite Pastimes?
Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity
Mayo Clinic Staff

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