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Does wealth affect exercise habits?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

What are self-made millionaires doing to get their sweat on? We've established healthy people are more likely to be successful, and we're exploring nine aspects of health to determine which aspects of health vary the most widely based on income. In week one we looked at diet, and this week we’re looking at the relationship of success to exercise to explain how the health wealth gap happens.

Why isn’t everyone exercising?

Class differences start at an early age when it comes to exercise. Poor children get less access to sporting opportunities due to lack of finances to partake and lack of parental time to take them there. This trend continues throughout many lives of many people in disadvantaged populations, with another factor stopping people from exercising being that they don’t feel safe exercising in their neighbourhoods and their smaller accommodations allow less room inside for exercising.

I can see how easily this could happen. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small tight knit wealthy community. When I was 16, my house burned down. I was involved heavily in the tennis team and that year, although we didn't have the money, I still got to play because someone covered not only my fees but my uniform as well. Looking back, I don't know what I would have done without the kindness of the person (I don't know who they were) who covered my fees that year.

I went on to be a Varsity Tennis captain my senior year and have become someone who loves excercise. If I didn't play tennis, I imagine I would have replaced excercise with reps of finger taps on my TV remote and bicep curls to bring coffee to my lips because I didn't have a license, I was living an hour away from school and all my friends.

What kind of exercise should you be doing?

There’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet about what exercise is best for success and most successful people exercise every day. According to Forbes, exercise is the most important habit for super successful people, and most self-made millionaires (76%) average about 30 minutes a day of exercise involving mostly cardio.

What about for optimal health? Should you be doing 15 minutes of HIIT or walking two hours a day? The NHS states adults 19-64 should aim for 2x resistance sessions a week, and 150 minutes of moderate intensity excercise or 75 minutes of vigorous excercise spread out over 4-5 days. You should also reduce the duration of time sitting still by getting up and moving throughout the day.

Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity

-Centers for Disease Control

If the guidelines sound like a lot to you, the CDC states that adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate to vigorous exercise yields tremendous health benefits. Any exercise will improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.

How do the wealthy and the poor move differently?

The American Cancer Society found wealthy people devoted an 9.3 additional minutes a day to light intensity activity, while simultaneously spending 11.8 more minutes of their time in a sedentary position which makes sense given a lot of high paying jobs these days involve sitting at a computer or in meetings.

The Atlantic found that not only were wealthier people more likely to exercise than poor people, but that people with lower incomes are more likely to use ineffective weight control strategies like diet pills.

This trend of the wealthy exercising more than the poor continues all the way to pensioner age highlighting a lifelong difference in habit forming.


Rich people intentionally exercise more often than poor people and for longer into their life. It’s clear exercise is vital for not only success but also short-term and long-term health. If your goal is to be a millionaire, aiming for 30 minutes of cardio every day statistically won’t hurt, but please don’t be too hard on yourself. What's clear is to be healthy, you don't need to have an all or nothing mindset and any excercise if beneficial.

For disadvantaged communities, it’s clear current exercise advice doesn’t take into account external factors, like needing food instead of buying a tennis lesson or the harsh truths like unsafe neighbourhoods to exercise outside in.

As a former couch potato who is passionate about fitness and health, I want to share my tips on how I get exercise every day and enjoy it. I know these tips won’t work for everyone, but even if you can move ten minutes more a day, you’ll probably be better off for it.

Four tips to excercise more


Associate something you love with working out, and only let yourself have it when you exercise.

For a long time this was a cup of coffee for me. Other things you can use are a bit of sugar, listening to your favourite album or wearing a gym outfit you love.


Exercise with friends

This includes going for walks or going to fitness classes if you have the time.


Start with 10 minute yoga YouTube videos at home

I used to do these without a mat. You don’t need to go all out. You’ll find people who exercise and continue exercising do it because they like it. You don’t have to do exercise that feels like punishment.


Do mouth ups

Assuming you have healthy relationships with supportive friends, tell people you know you want to start exercising and share your journey. The encouragement you’ll get from people who care about you will help reinforce you’re doing the right thing.

Enjoyed this post?

Thanks for reading. Hope you learned something new you can use to get you closer to happiness. Next week we’ll be exploring the sleep routines of successful people.

Questions that keep me up at night - the blog for curious people every Wednesday at 9:00am.

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