Canadians are not as active as they should be, Statistics Canada warns in a new study.

According to results of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) released by Statistics Canada Wednesday morning, only 15 per cent of adults achieve the minimum amount of daily recommended exercise.

Young people fare even worse, with just 7 per cent of those aged 5 to 17 attaining the minimum level of physical activity each day.

In contrast, the data reveals that adults are sedentary for an average of 9.5 hours each day while children and youth spend 8.6 hours engaged in sedentary activities such as watching television.

The results are based on data gathered in a survey of the physical activity patterns of Canadian adults and kids.

StatsCan divided its findings into two reports: One addressing physical activity in Canadian adults between the ages of 20 and 79, and the other examining young people between 6 and 19-years-old.

Unlike previous research that was based on the activity levels reported by the subjects themselves, this survey is the first to measure activity directly using a small device akin to a sophisticated pedometer worn on the subject's hip for seven days.

Researchers could therefore sidestep the misreporting that commonly plagues such surveys, because the accelerometers recorded participants' actual movements. It also meant the study could accurately parse the time spent in light, moderate and vigorous intensity movement, as well as the moments spent simply sedentary.

Other highlights from the survey include:

  • Just over half of all adults accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity one day a week, but only 5 per cent of adults manage to accumulate the recommended 150 minutes by week's end.
  • On average, adult men take about 9,500 steps a day, compared with 8,400 for women. Among older adults aged 60 to 79, men average 7,900 steps each day, while women average 7,000. Boys average 12,100 steps per day compared with 10,300 for girls.
  • While just 7 per cent of children and youth accumulate 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on at least six days a week, the number who rack up 30 minutes climbs to 29 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls. More than 8o per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls manage to squeeze in 30 minutes of activity three days a week.

As a University of Ottawa pediatrics professor actively involved in healthy, active-living initiatives, Dr. Mark Tremblay was one of the senior investigators who gathered the survey data.

When asked to weigh the results, Tremblay said they don't look good.

"The only good news out of this story is that for the first time we have a very robust, very accurate measure of a representative sample of Canadians' movement behaviours, and that's pretty much where the good news ends," Dr. Tremblay told CTV's Canada AM in an interview Wednesday morning.

Pointing to what he called the survey's most troubling finding, Tremblay said it's clear too many Canadians are spending too much time sitting around.

"Perhaps the most astounding finding is that between 60 and 70 per cent of our waking time is spent being completely sedentary, and clearly that's not something that's kept this species alive, fit and active throughout history," he said.

Sedentary lifestyles are linked to at least two dozen ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease and osteoporosis.

ParticipAction president Kelly Murumets says Canadians need to get moving, and encourage their children to be more physically active too.

"It is urgent that all Canadians take action so that we can reverse this dangerous, societal trend," she said in a statement.

"Parents, the private sector, government, schools and the community at large are all partners in this complex task. Bottom line is that we need to inspire and support our children by being good role models and leading active, healthy lifestyles."

There's no doubt getting the body moving helps keep it healthy, but Canada AM fitness expert Libby Norris recognizes that most people don't do any formal "exercising" at all.

Instead, she suggests finding creative ways to incorporate physical activities into some unexpected situations. Doing some push-ups against the kitchen counter while waiting for the kettle to boil, for example, or turning some simple household items into fitness tools.

"A great idea is to pick two or three exercises during each commercial break," Norris said, demonstrating on Canada AM how anyone can turn TV time into an exercise opportunity.

"If you did that during your favourite hour-long program it would add up to a 20-minute workout."

Next week, the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology is expected to advise the Public Health Agency of Canada to bring its physical activity recommendations in line with the minimum amount of physical activity the World Health Organization deems necessary to promote good health.

Under the proposed guidelines -- which include limits on the amount of time spent watching TV and other sedentary activities -- adults are advised to engage in 150 minutes of physical activity each week while children are told to run around for 60 minutes each day.

Current guidelines suggest children start with 30 minutes of activity a day, and gradually build to 90 minutes of combined moderate and vigorous activities. Adults are now encouraged to take 60 minutes each day performing light activities, or engage in 30 minutes of more strenuous exercises four days a week.

The CHMS was based on at least four days of valid data collected from a total of 2,832 adults aged 20 to 79 and 1,608 children and adolescents aged 6 to 19.