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We’re a nation of fatties, in no small part because we get half as much exercise as we should.

The typical American spends just two hours a week exercising, according to researchers at Penn State and the University of Maryland, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults age 18 to 64 get four hours of exercise per week. That could help explain why a separate study by Duke University finds 42 percent of the population could be obese by 2030, adding nearly $550 billion to the nation’s healthcare tab.

Ideally, the CDC says, we should get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise — brisk walking, riding a bike on level ground, that sort of thing — each week. We ought to spend another 75 minutes per week engaging in vigorous activity like running or shooting hoops.

The researchers, who analyzed American Time Use Study data the U.S. Census Bureau gathered from more than 100,000 people nationwide, found teens are the most active, spending about 41 minutes per day exercising. Adults spend about 17 minutes a day, while those 65 and older get roughly 13 minutes of exercise per day.

Walking is the most common activity, with about 5 percent of Americans spending about 53 minutes a week on foot. Among those people regularly breaking a sweat playing a team sport, basketball is the most popular activity. The results are reported in the 2011 edition of Time Use in Australia and United States/Canada Bulletin.

The researchers cited the typical reasons for our inactivity: We’re car-centric, we’re addicted to TV and we’re getting older. But they also say “a lot of physical activities, such as hockey and tennis” can be expensive to participate in and “because of crime, some people are afraid to leave their homes to go out for a walk or run.”

Whatever our reasons, the fact we’re getting far less exercise than we should be is problematic. A Duke University study (.pdf) finds the number of obese Americans will rise, from 36 percent of the adult population to 42 percent by 2030, without serious intervention. That means another 32 million Americans would be obese.

The researchers, appearing this week at the CDC’s “Weight of the Nation” conference in Washington, said the cost of treating the diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses associated with obesity would climb by $550 billion over 20 years.

The good news is the growth of the obesity rate is slowing. The researchers aren’t sure why, according to the Los Angeles Times, but say continued success with current anti-obesity efforts — including public health campaigns to encourage exercise and more-healthful eating — could further flatten the curve.

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