Newswise — Latino men and women get most of their daily physical activity from work and home-related tasks, rather than recreational exercise, according to a study in the current issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Researchers also found significant differences in how Latino men and women get most of their physical activity. Among the 155 people followed in the study, men participated in more work-related physical activity than women, while women engaged in more household-related physical activity.
Latinos who were more "Americanized" in their language and culture than others had lower overall and work-related activity rates, perhaps because they did not work in manual labor jobs, say researchers David Marquez of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Edward McAuley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The findings, the first of their kind for the Latino community, "magnify the challenge of exercise promotion among Latino men and women," the researchers say.
"If Latinos believe they are getting enough physical activity to achieve health benefits at their job and at home, it will be difficult to encourage them to exercise," Marquez said.
Previous studies suggest that recreational exercise is uncommon among Latinos in the United States. Among Mexican-Americans, the largest Latino group in the country, one-third of men and 46 percent of women say they get no leisure-time physical activity.
It may be a myth to consider Latinos sedentary, however, since few studies measure physical activity from jobs and household chores, according to Marquez and McAuley.
In their study of 86 women and 69 men recruited from towns in central Illinois, the researchers collected information on daily physical activity from questionnaires and an accelerometer, a pedometer-like device worn on the body that captures all physical activity.
The participants ranged in age from 18 to 60 years old, with 61 percent earning $15,000 or less each year. Latinos from 15 countries of origin participated, although nearly half of the participants came from Mexico.
Recent research shows that middle-class Latinos work an average of five extra hours a week and Latino professionals an extra 13 hours a week compared to their white counterparts and "with such demanding work requirements, finding time to exercise may prove to be difficult," Marquez said.
The problem could be particularly acute for Latino women balancing job and household chores, Marquez said. "For many Latina women, the concept of 'leisure time,' a time without responsibilities to anyone or anything, does not exist."
Amy Eyler, a professor of community health at St. Louis University School of Public Health, says every bit of physical activity — whether at work or play — can be healthy.
"On the flip side, there is something to be said for recreational physical activity. While everyday activity will give you overall health benefits, sustained exercise gives you cardiovascular benefits and can help control weight," Eyler said.
"Plus there is a benefit in taking a bit of time for oneself when the majority of your life is geared toward taking care of others, in the case of women," Eyler added.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine: Contact Alan J. Christensen, Ph.D., (319) 335-3396.
Marquez DX, McAuley E. Gender and acculturation influences on physical activity in Latino adults. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 31(2), 2006.