Pennsylvanians are more active than the national average, but still overweight. How is that possible?

Pennsylvania adults, as it turns out, are above average when it comes to working out.

A National Health Statistics Report released Thursday analyzed the leisure-time physical activity of U.S. adults ages 18 to 64 to see if they met the recommended federal guidelines for both muscle-strengthening and aerobic activity.

Just over a quarter of Pennsylvania adults – a significantly higher percentage than the national average of 22.9 percent  – met the federal guidelines. In New Jersey, 21 percent of adults met the activity guidelines. The results were based on data from the 2010–15 National Health Interview Survey.

The 2008 federal guidelines recommend muscle-strengthening activities twice a week with either moderate aerobic physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous physical activity for at least 75 minutes a week, or an equivalent combination.

Camera icon National Center for Health Statistics
Age-adjusted percentages of adults 18-64 who met both aerobic and muscle-strengthening federal guidelines through leisure-time physical activity by state between 2010 and 2015.

But extra time spent working out doesn’t mean a slimmer population.

In 2016, 30 percent of Pennsylvania adults were determined to be obese, with a body mass index of 30 or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey, 27 percent of adults had a BMI of 30 or greater.

Janine Kyrillos, director of the Thomas Jefferson University Comprehensive Weight Management Program at Bala, was not surprised there isn’t more of a correlation between the exercise and weight.

“It is a common misconception, and we are still trying to convince people that exercise is not a weight loss tool,” said Kyrillos, a physician. “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

Kyrillos recommends her patients first focus on diet. Once they have lost some weight, they are more likely to move, she said.

Kyrillos suggests patients avoid processed food, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars. They are easier for the body to store and harder to burn off.

And it’s not only what we eat but what we drink that can have an impact on weight.

“Sugary drinks and sodas are killing us,” Kyrillos said.

The National Health Statistics Report defined physical activity as recreational exercise performed during leisure time, occupational tasks performed during work, or walking or cycling specifically for transportation or commuting. Since the majority of U.S. workers are employed in sedentary jobs, most of the physical activity was done outside of the workplace.

Overall, the states with the lowest activity average were predominantly in the southeastern part of the county; states in the Rocky Mountain or Far West regions had the highest percentage. Mississippi ranked lowest with about 13 percent of adults who met the federal guidelines for exercise, while Colorado ranked highest with 32 percent.

In Pennsylvania, both working men and women and non-working women were slightly above the national average for meeting the guidelines. Non-working men were slightly below the national average.

At nearly 17 percent, New Jersey working women were significantly lower than the national average of almost 21 percent for meeting the federal guidelines.