Nationally, two-thirds of adults with arthritis say they walk fewer than 90 minutes a week (outside of routine activities) – and more than half report not walking at all during a seven-day period – despite its proven benefits, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

California, with 42 percent, has the highest proportion of people with arthritis who report walking 90 or more minutes per week. Tennessee, with about 24 percent, has the lowest rate.

“I think the most surprising thing is that over half the people don’t do any walking in a typical week,” says lead author Jennifer M. Hootman, PhD, an epidemiologist in the Arthritis Program at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “These people are very sedentary.”

This is the first time the agency has broken down by state walking levels among adults with arthritis. The findings were published in the May 3, 2013 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Walking is generally recommended for people with arthritis – and it’s the type of exercise most of them prefer. Its benefits include reducing arthritis pain and fatigue, and increasing function, ability, strength and balance.

This study analyzed data from a 2011 telephone survey of nearly 154,000 people with arthritis from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Participants were asked if they had exercised or participated in physical activities in the past month, and to describe the type and frequency. Walking was the most frequent response, and was classified as any purposeful walking aside from walking for work or transportation, such as walking a dog, around the neighborhood or on a treadmill.

A total of 66 percent – and about 75 percent in eight states – reported walking less than 90 minutes or not at all per week.

These results fall far short of the 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise the CDC recommends for all Americans. The 90-minute-per-week threshold was based on the minimum amount of walking shown in one study to lower pain and improve function in people with arthritis.

“People with arthritis tell us in focus groups that walking is their preferred activity, so the fact that over 50 percent don’t walk at all is surprising. We do know people with arthritis are less active, but walking is simple and even a little bit of walking can help,” Hootman says.

She adds that walking is an ideal activity for people with arthritis because its impact on joints is low and it can be done almost anywhere for little cost. And research has shown that when done properly, walking reduces arthritis symptoms, has cardiovascular benefits and can lead to weight loss. But she acknowledges that taking the first step can still be hard.