April 12, 2013 at 1:48 PM ET
By Rachael Rettner, MyHealthNewsDaily
There are only so many hours in a day, and a new study suggests Americans often face a choice of what to do with their down time: head to the gym or prepare a healthy dinner.
The results show adults appear to either sacrifice exercise at the expense of making meals, or vice versa.
Even among those who were able to fit in both exercise and meal preparation in the same day, a 10-minute increase in time spent preparing food was linked with a workout that was 10 minutes shorter, the researchers said.
The findings highlight the need to consider people's time constraints when making public health recommendations, said study researcher Rachel Tumin, a doctoral student in epidemiology at The Ohio State University's College of Public Health.
"For time-intensive behaviors, public health officials may need to triage their recommendations by how much total time they think people have to spend on these activities each day," Tumin said. "If adults have a set time budget to devote to healthy behaviors, then recommendations should be tailored to make efficient use of that time budget."
The study analyzed information from more than 112,000 American adults who were surveyed about their activities over a 24-hour period.
About 16 percent of men and 12 percent of women said they exercised that day. On average, women spent 44 minutes preparing food and nine minutes exercising, while men spent 17 minutes preparing food and 19 minutes exercising.
The researchers noted that, because their survey only covered one 24-hour period, they don't know whether some adults devote one day a week to extensive meal preparation, and another for a good workout.
But even if that's the case, the researchers said, there's a lot of evidence that American adults are crunched for time, and are also facing ever-more-detailed health recommendations.
"If we assume, for example, that adults have 45 minutes of free time to allocate to health-promoting behaviors, maybe we need to look at that holistically and determine the optimal way to use that time," Tumin said.
The study was to be presented at the Population Association of America meeting in New Orleans.