Letter

Climate change may alter human physical activity patterns

  • Nature Human Behaviour 1, Article number: 0097 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0097
  • Download Citation
Received:
Accepted:
Published online:

Abstract

Regular physical activity supports healthy human functioning1,​2,​3. Might climate change—by modifying the environmental determinants of human physical activity—alter exercise rates in the future4? Here we conduct an empirical investigation of the relationship between meteorological conditions, physical activity and future climate change. Using data on reported participation in recreational physical activity from over 1.9 million US survey respondents between 2002 and 2012, coupled with daily meteorological data, we show that both cold and acutely hot temperatures, as well as precipitation days, reduce physical activity. We combine our historical estimates with output from 21 climate models and project the possible physical activity effects of future climatic changes by 2050 and 2099. Our projection indicates that warming over the course of this century may increase net recreational physical activity in the United States. Activity may increase most during the winter in northern states and decline most during the summer in southern states.

  • Subscribe to Nature Human Behaviour for full access:

    $99

    Subscribe

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

References

  1. 1.

    & Environmental contributions to the obesity epidemic. Science 280, 1371–1374 (1998).

  2. 2.

    , , , & Physical activity/exercise and type 2 diabetes a consensus statement from the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care 29, 1433–1438 (2006).

  3. 3.

    & Physical activity and cardiovascular health lessons learned from epidemiological studies across age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Circulation 122, 743–752 (2010).

  4. 4.

    , , & The influence of global heating on discretionary physical activity: an important and overlooked consequence of climate change. J. Phys. Act. Health 10, 765–768 (2013).

  5. 5.

    , , & Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 291, 1238–1245 (2004).

  6. 6.

    , & Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 9, 58–65 (2008).

  7. 7.

    , & Physical activity and likelihood of depression in adults: a review. Prev. Med. 46, 397–411 (2008).

  8. 8.

    et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation 116, 1081–1093 (2007).

  9. 9.

    , & Declining rates of physical activity in the United States: what are the contributors? Annu. Rev. Public Health 26, 421–443 (2005).

  10. 10.

    , , , & Environmental and policy determinants of physical activity in the United States. Am. J. Public Health 91, 1995–2003 (2001).

  11. 11.

    & The relative influence of individual, social and physical environment determinants of physical activity. Soc. Sci. Med. 54, 1793–1812 (2002).

  12. 12.

    & The effect of season and weather on physical activity: a systematic review. Public Health 121, 909–922 (2007).

  13. 13.

    , , & Leisure time physical activity in the Framingham Offspring Study. Description, seasonal variation, and risk factor correlates. Am. J. Epidemiol. 129, 76–88 (1989).

  14. 14.

    & Objective confirmation of subjective measures of human well-being: evidence from the USA. Science 327, 576–579 (2010).

  15. 15.

    , , , & Reliability and validity of measures from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Soz. Praventivmed. 46, S3–S42 (2001).

  16. 16.

    et al. Reliability and validity of the instrument used in BRFSS to assess physical activity. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 39, 1267–1274 (2007).

  17. 17.

    , & The epidemiology of walking for exercise: implications for promoting activity among sedentary groups. Am. J. Public Health 85, 706–710 (1995).

  18. 18.

    , & Evaluating change in physical activity with the building of a multi-use trail. Am. J. Prev. Med. 28, 177–185 (2005).

  19. 19.

    , , , & An overview of the Global Historical Climatology Network-daily database. J. Atmos. Oceanic Tech. 29, 897–910 (2012).

  20. 20.

    et al. NCEP–DOE AMIP-II reanalysis (R-2). Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 83, 1631–1643 (2002).

  21. 21.

    , , , & Constructing retrospective gridded daily precipitation and temperature datasets for the conterminous United States. J. Appl. Meteorol. Climatol. 47, 475–497 (2008).

  22. 22.

    & Climate change, mortality, and adaptation: evidence from annual fluctuations in weather in the US. Am. Econ. J. Appl. Econ. 3, 152–185 (2011).

  23. 23.

    & Temperature and the allocation of time: implications for climate change. J. Labor Econ. 32, 1–26 (2014).

  24. 24.

    , & Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production. Nature 527, 235–239 (2015).

  25. 25.

    Climate econometrics. Annu. Rev. Resour. Econ. 8, 43–75 (2016).

  26. 26.

    Econometric Analysis of Cross Section and Panel Data. (MIT Press, 2010).

  27. 27.

    , , & Using weather data and climate model output in economic analyses of climate change. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 7, 181–198 (2013).

  28. 28.

    , & What do we learn from the weather? The new climate-economy literature. J. Econ. Lit. 52, 740–798 (2014).

  29. 29.

    Climate change may speed democratic turnover. Climatic. Change 140, 135–147 (2017).

  30. 30.

    & Social and economic impacts of climate. Science 353, aad9837 (2016).

  31. 31.

    , & Quantifying the influence of climate on human conflict. Science 341, 1235367 (2013).

  32. 32.

    An illustration of a pitfall in estimating the effects of aggregate variables on micro units. Rev. Econ. Stat. 72, 334–338 (1990).

  33. 33.

    , & Robust inference with multiway clustering. J. Bus. Econ. Stat. 29, 238–249 (2011).

  34. 34.

    & Heteroskedasticity-robust standard errors for fixed effects panel data regression. Econometrica 76, 155–174 (2008).

  35. 35.

    The influence of high air temperatures no. I. J. Hyg. 5, 494–513 (1905).

  36. 36.

    Hyperthermia. N. Engl. J. Med. 329, 483–487 (1993).

  37. 37.

    , & Implementation and comparison of a suite of heat stress metrics within the Community Land Model version 4.5. Geosci. Model Dev. 8, 151–170 (2015).

  38. 38.

    et al. Heat, human performance, and occupational health: a key issue for the assessment of global climate change impacts. Annu. Rev. Public Health 37, 97–112 (2016).

  39. 39.

    , & Prevention of heat casualties. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 165, 1813–1818 (1957).

  40. 40.

    The assessment of sultriness. Part I: a temperature-humidity index based on human physiology and clothing science. J. Appl. Meteorol. 18, 861–873 (1979).

  41. 41.

    The Heat Index Equation (or, More Than You ever Wanted to Know about Heat Index) Technical Attachment SR 90-23 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Office of Meteorology, 1990).

  42. 42.

    , , & Cardiovascular adaptations supporting human exercise-heat acclimation. Auton. Neurosci. 196, 52–62 (2016).

  43. 43.

    , , , & Circadian and age-related modulation of thermoreception and temperature regulation: mechanisms and functional implications. Ageing Res. Rev. 1, 721–778 (2002).

  44. 44.

    , , & No pause in the increase of hot temperature extremes. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 161–163 (2014).

  45. 45.

    , , & Technical note: bias correcting climate model simulated daily temperature extremes with quantile mapping. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 16, 3309–3314 (2012).

  46. 46.

    , & An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

  47. 47.

    et al. RCP 8.5—a scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions. Clim. Change 109, 33–57 (2011).

  48. 48.

    Mismeasured variables in econometric analysis: problems from the right and problems from the left. J. Econ. Perspect. 15, 57–67 (2001).

  49. 49.

    et al. Changes in susceptibility to heat during the summer: a multicountry analysis. Am. J. Epidemiol. 183, 1027–1036 (2016).

  50. 50.

    & Contribution of air conditioning adoption to future energy use under global warming. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 5962–5967 (2015).

  51. 51.

    Occupational health impacts of climate change: current and future ISO standards for the assessment of heat stress. Ind. Health 51, 86–100 (2013).

  52. 52.

    , , & Integrated physiological mechanisms of exercise performance, adaptation, and maladaptation to heat stress. Compr. Physiol. 1, 1883–1928 (2011).

  53. 53.

    & Cold stress effects on exposure tolerance and exercise performance. Compr. Physiol. 6, 443–469 (2015).

  54. 54.

    & The psychological impacts of global climate change. Am. Psychol. 66, 265–276 (2011).

  55. 55.

    Drought under global warming: a review. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 2, 45–65 (2011).

  56. 56.

    & Relation between elevated ambient temperature and mortality: a review of the epidemiologic evidence. Epidemiologic Rev. 24, 190–202 (2002).

  57. 57.

    Temperature, human health, and adaptation: a review of the empirical literature. Energy Econ. 46, 606–619 (2014).

  58. 58.

    , , & Mortality displacement of heat-related deaths: a comparison of Delhi, São Paulo, and London. Epidemiology 16, 613–620 (2005).

  59. 59.

    et al. Climate change and the global malaria recession. Nature 465, 342–345 (2010).

  60. 60.

    et al. Global variation in the effects of ambient temperature on mortality: a systematic evaluation. Epidemiology 25, 781–789 (2014).

  61. 61.

    , , , & Impacts of temperature and its variability on mortality in New England. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 988–991 (2015).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the San Diego Supercomputer Center for their assistance. N.O. was supported during the course of manuscript preparation by the Frontiers of Innovation Fellowship from the University of California San Diego, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the MIT Media Lab. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

    • Nick Obradovich
  2. Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139-4307, USA.

    • Nick Obradovich
  3. Department of Political Science, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.

    • James H. Fowler
  4. Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.

    • James H. Fowler

Authors

  1. Search for Nick Obradovich in:

  2. Search for James H. Fowler in:

Contributions

N.O. conceived the research question, constructed and analysed the historical data, conducted the forecast, and compiled the Supplementary Information. N.O. and J.H.F. developed figures and drafted the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nick Obradovich.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Results, Supplementary References, Supplementary Tables 1–6.