Climate change may alter human physical activity patterns


Regular physical activity supports healthy human functioning13. 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.

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Figure 1: Recreational physical activity peaks at higher temperatures and heat index values and declines with higher numbers of precipitation days.
Figure 2: Heat most reduces participation in physical activity among people who are obese or elderly.
Figure 3: Climate change may alter temporal patterns of physical activity.
Figure 4: Climate change may alter physical activity rates spatially throughout the United States.
Figure 5: Climate change may increase physical activity the most in cooler months in the northern United States and reduce it the most in summer months in the southern United States.


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Nick Obradovich.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Results, Supplementary References, Supplementary Tables 1–6. (PDF 839 kb)

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Obradovich, N., Fowler, J. Climate change may alter human physical activity patterns. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0097 (2017).

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