IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Exercise, Physical Activity, and Exertion over the Business Cycle

  • Gregory J. Colman
  • Dhaval M. Dave

As economic recessions reduce employment and wages, associated shifts in time and income constraints would be expected to also impact individuals' health behaviors. Prior work has focused exclusively on recreational exercise, which typically represents only about 4% of total daily physical exertion. The general presumption in these studies is that, because exercise improves health, if unemployment increases exercise it must also improve health. Yet a person may be laid off from a physically demanding job, exercise more, and still be less physically active than when employed. Thus the relevant question is whether unemployment leads persons to become more physically active. We study this question with the American Time Use Survey (2003-2010), exploring the impact of the business cycle (and specifically the Great Recession) on individuals' exercise, other uses of time, and physical activity during the day. We also utilize more precise measures of exercise (and all other physical activities), which reflect information on the duration as well as intensity of each component activity, than has been employed in past studies. Using within-state variation in employment and unemployment, we find that recreational exercise tends to increase as employment decreases. In addition, we also find that individuals substitute into television watching, sleeping, childcare, and housework. However, this increase in exercise as well as other activities does not compensate for the decrease in work-related exertion due to job-loss. Thus total physical exertion, which prior studies have not analyzed, declines. These behavioral effects are strongest among low-educated males, which is validating given that the Great Recession led to some of the largest layoffs within the manufacturing, mining, and construction sectors. Due to the concentration of low-educated workers in boom-and-bust industries, the drop in total physical activity during recessions is especially problematic for vulnerable populations and may play a role in exacerbating the SES-health gradient during recessions. We also find some evidence of intra-household spillover effects, wherein individuals respond to shifts in spousal employment conditional on their own labor supply.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17406.

in new window

Date of creation: Sep 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Colman, Gregory & Dave, Dhaval, 2013. "Exercise, physical activity, and exertion over the business cycle," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 11-20.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17406
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Henry Saffer & Dhaval M. Dave & Michael Grossman, 2011. "Racial, Ethnic and Gender Differences in Physical Activity," NBER Working Papers 17413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Böckerman, Petri & Johansson, Edvard & Helakorpi, Satu & Prättälä, Ritva & Vartiainen, Erkki & Uutela, Antti, 2004. "Does a Slump Really Make You Thinner? Finnish Micro-level Evidence 1978 -2002," Discussion Papers 928, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.
  3. Dhaval M. Dave & Inas Rashad Kelly, 2010. "How Does the Business Cycle Affect Eating Habits?," NBER Working Papers 16638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Xin Xu & Robert Kaestner, 2010. "The Business Cycle and Health Behaviors," NBER Working Papers 15737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Gerdtham, Ulf-G. & Ruhm, Christopher J., 2006. "Deaths rise in good economic times: Evidence from the OECD," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 298-316, December.
  6. Christopher J. Ruhm, 1996. "Are Recessions Good For Your Health?," NBER Working Papers 5570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Dhaval Dave & Robert Kaestner, 2006. "Health Insurance and Ex Ante Moral Hazard: Evidence from Medicare," NBER Working Papers 12764, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Darius Lakdawalla & Tomas Philipson & Jay Bhattacharya, 2005. "Welfare-Enhancing Technological Change and the Growth of Obesity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 253-257, May.
  9. Timothy Halliday, 2006. "The Impact of Aggregate and Idiosyncratic Income Shocks on Health Outcomes: Evidence from the PSID," Working Papers 200606, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
  10. Peter Groothuis & Paul Gabriel, 2010. "Positive assortative mating and spouses as complementary factors of production: a theory of labour augmentation," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(9), pages 1101-1111.
  11. Christopher J. Ruhm, 2003. "Healthy Living in Hard Times," NBER Working Papers 9468, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Grossman, Michael, 2000. "The human capital model," Handbook of Health Economics, in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 7, pages 347-408 Elsevier.
  13. Charles, Kerwin Kofi & DeCicca, Philip, 2008. "Local labor market fluctuations and health: Is there a connection and for whom?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 1532-1550, December.
  14. Neumayer, Eric, 2004. "Recessions lower (some) mortality rates:: evidence from Germany," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(6), pages 1037-1047, March.
  15. Athina Economou & Agelike Nikolaou & Ioannis Theodossiou, 2008. "Are recessions harmful to health after all?: Evidence from the European Union," Journal of Economic Studies, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 35(5), pages 368-384, October.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17406. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.