Out of shape nation: Half of Americans admit they can’t touch their toes without straining

New survey reveals that the average adult logs just 3,800 steps per day — far less than the 10,000 recommended

NEW YORK — More than seven in 10 (73%) Americans are eager to increase their physical activity to keep up with their children. That’s because the pandemic kept many individuals from taking care of their bodies as well as they were prior to COVID-19.

A recent study polled 2,000 U.S. adults to see how they’re staying active as their routines and lifestyles have undergone drastic change over the past two years. Only half of respondents (51%) can touch their toes without straining. However, people are looking to change their habits, with 70 percent making more of an effort to move around and be physically active more now than at the start of the pandemic.

Whether it’s due to working from home or lack of motivation, 42 percent say they struggle to stay physically active during the day.

Get up and get moving

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel, the survey reveals that now more than ever, Americans are planning on making an effort to be physically active. In fact, people are renewing their commitment to an active lifestyle through activities like stretching at home (43%), at-home workouts (38%), and taking mental health walks (31%).

It’s clear that movement is a means to help people feel better about themselves and connect with those around them. Eighty-one percent of the survey say exercising puts them in a better mood, and 54 percent have made it a goal to exercise more with their family. Other motives to increase movement are to improve their physical health (67%) and mental health (51%), as well as to be a good influence on their children’s lives (42%).

However, when given a list of common hurdles, 87 percent say one or more of those obstacles prevents them from being physically active during the day. The average person reports getting only 3,800 steps per day, instead of the 10,000 recommended by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Lack of motivation (39%) and injuries (30%) are among the hurdles at the top of the list. However, the biggest obstacle is joint pain and arthritis (42%).

“Our results show that pain is the prevailing barrier that affects people who are trying to increase their movement,” says Rishi Mulgund, Brand Director, Pain Relief at GSK Consumer Healthcare, in a statement. “Those with osteoarthritis (OA) have an especially challenging time, as OA negatively affects them an average of four days a week. Fifty-nine percent also said their OA makes moving and exercising more difficult.”

Healthy hacks around the house

While those with osteoarthritis may initially feel hesitant to move more, low-impact activities that are gentle on the joints can help relieve arthritis pain over time. That’s why many individuals with OA incorporate general exercise (42%) and stretching the affected area (44%) into their routine.

“Forty-four percent of those with osteoarthritis said having a support system of people who understand what they’re going through has helped them manage their pain,” Mulgund continues. “Over-the-counter topical treatments can provide additional support and improve mobility.”

On a broader level, many people are also trying a number of tricks or “shortcuts” to sneak in movement throughout the day, such as walking around the house when on the phone (54%) and doing exercises such as crunches and squats while watching TV (42%).

Actively engaging in movement and activities that bring joy, such as gardening, swimming, dancing, talking walks, bike riding, or doing yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi are on the rise. These aren’t the only ways people are moving. In fact, many are thinking outside of the box to get in more steps and incorporate physical movement into their daily routines.

“There are tons of ways you can get creative to get up and move,” Mulgund says. “Movement is more than just a way to get physical activity in — it’s time spent with family.”

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. I have been in excellent shape most of my life, in fact in my teens I was very underweight for my size. Never had a beer belly, and had 6 pack abs until my early 50’s, and I have NEVER been able to touch my toes. It’s like I have an extra rib that keeps me from bending that far down. It really hurts now that I have Peripheral Neuropathy pain and I can’t reach my feet to apply any pain killers like Lidocaine. So…are you gonna tell me that I have 6 months to live because I can’t touch my toes? Please….

    1. Similar here. I’m 50 and can outrun, out-bike, and last in endurance exercises most 30 year olds and I can’t touch my toes either – and never could.

      1. I’m 63, I walk 7-10 miles a day. I do 100 push-ups a day. Sir, start pushing yourself a bit. Assuming cardiologist says it’s ok. My dad is 88 and walks 4 miles a day and is super active

    2. I am 65. I have long legs and a rather short torso. Call me ‘high-waisted’ if you will.

      I have NEVER been able to touch my toes. My legs are just too long. Touches toes means nothing to me. I have been in excellent physical condition for many of my years and… still have never touched my toes with legs locked.

      Color me not the least bit worried.

      1. Totally agree.. this article is b******* I am 82 years old I walked 3 miles a day spent three days a week maybe four in the gym doing heavy workouts…. In my whole life I have never been able to touch my toes again because I have short torso and long legs and long arms I will never be able to touch my toes

    3. This article and other articles I have read have got it all wrong. Since Covid, working out of the home, and not missing my former three hour a day commute, I have lost 45 pounds and walk during my lunch hour every day. I am in the best shape I’ve ever been in years. I am more focused on what I eat, which is not on the run and I’m not sitting at my desk for 8 hours and then in my car for another three. I can touch my toes without bending my knees!

  2. This is simply not accurate. I dropped my breakfast eclair on the floor and had no trouble bending over and scooping it up before the three seconds rule went into effect.

  3. I used to run 100 plus mile weeks. I could rarely touch my toes, and certainly not without straining.
    Not sure the ability to touch one’s toes is a marker of how good of a shape one is in.

  4. Sure, this relates to flexibility… I don’t think it relates to health. I’ve never been able to touch my toes. Not during my entire life. However, as a teenager I was a decorated rubber, was in the top 3% of all US Military personnel on physical fitness tests in my 20s, qualified for the world championships in off-road racing in my 30s, and was ranked as the 33rd strongest man in the US (90th in the world) within my division at 40. I can still run a mile in under 6 minutes… And have never touched my toes. ????

    1. “as a teenager I was a decorated rubber [sic]”

      Is that when you painted the condominium?

      1. Man… I saw that spell check immediately after I hit enter. By then it was too late as there is no way to edit. ???? Through a twist of fate… I am now a decorated high school rubber (runner). ????????‍♂️

  5. As a devotee of Miranda Esmonde-White’s highly successful exercise program, I believe it when her instructors say that the ability to easily touch your toes isn’t any kind of measure of fitness. That particular marker of flexibility doesn’t say much about your overall joint/muscle/ligament health. I follow her program of gentle, flowing movements that gradually increase mobility and strength, and am amazed at the progress one can make in a very short time. People have to work consistently to maintain strength and flexibility, but, as she has shown many thousands of people, “work” doesn’t mean “work hard.”

  6. Joint replacement can be the solution to osteoarthritis. I had it really bad in my shoulder. My range of motion was about 50% and the pain was terrible. I had the shoulder replaced which left me pain free and restored my range of motion to about 95%. Knee and hip replacements are available for those who are having difficulty walking. I know several people who have had those replacements and are just a pleased as I am with mine.

    1. I wish to avoid joint replacements entirely, not seek them out. Since NSAIDS until you get replacements are the only standard of care in American lying medicine for osteoarthritis, because long term NSAIDS do such profitable organ damage, I turned to the middle eastern standard of care, which is black seed oil, no side effects. It’s done miracles for me, my hip and my knee. My thumb needs more time.

  7. Being able to touch your toes has absolutely nothing to do with being in shape. It’s a ridiculous headline and extremely misleading.

  8. Just lean back in your recliner and lift both feet soles facing each other then touch those toes. Problem solved. To get 10 k steps just visit an ATM after-hours, be prepared to run!

  9. To that end,the Democrats should stop building schools and start building 400 meter tracks away from schools,who keep the taxpayers away from them,believing all outsiders to be Salvador Ramos.

  10. Touching your knees without bending your knees (backwards)? Or with bending your knees (backwards)? That is a measure of leg-length / body-type ONLY. That is NOT a measure of fitness after babyhood any more than curling your tongue is. Who wrote this “study”? White supremecists? Short-legged Chinese suppremecists?

  11. touching your toes does not have that much to do with being in shape, unless your stomach is so big you can’t, plenty of thinner, healthy people who exercise can’t. It’s as much as getting old to ligament strength to genetics

  12. Why the focus on touching toes?

    I am 70, my body fat is 15.8% and I can out-run, out-row, out-lift, out-dance most 30 year-olds, but like others have noted, I have NEVER been able to touch my toes.

  13. The trick is to bend one’s knees. The ability to touch one’s toes is a cognitive test, not a physical fitness test.

  14. It’s actually true.

    Many Americans have tried to touch my toes, but relatively few could do so without straining.

  15. I was barely able to touch my toes even when I was at my physical fitness peak. Who cares? The person that conducted this research clearly just wants to watch people bend over.

  16. Yes, indeed arthritis is a pain; however, the best anti-arthritic? Motion is the lotion. Gotta get up and move. I’m 70, and I get out an walk, bicycle, lift weights, swim, yard work. Touching toes? Hamstrings are tights, but I can do it. Gotta move, sitting is the worst thing for any person.

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