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March 24th, 2010
05:51 PM ET

Keeping weight down means more than a few minutes of activity a day

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

If you're a middle aged woman and trying to keep your weight down you probably know how hard it can be. It seems like you're spending more time on the treadmill at the gym than at home. So how active do older women need to be in order to keep weight off? It all depends.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found women of normal weight who were successful in keeping the scale stable averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate activity. Which means if you want to keep the weight off you've got to stay active!

The purpose of the study was to look at how much physical activity was needed to prevent long-term weight changes in women who ate a regular diet. Researchers looked at 34,079 healthy women in the U.S. over a 15-year period. The average age of the participants was 54. Over a schedule of months, the women reported their physical activity and body weight. They were then classified into different groups, depending on how many hours a week they were active

Overall the women gained an average of 5.7 pounds throughout the study. Compared with women who were very active, those who were not as active gained about .3 pounds more. But what was most interesting is investigators found that among those women who ate a normal diet, physical activity was associated with less weight gain only among women who had lower BMIs, (Body Mass Index). That means women who were leaner kept the weight off as long as they were active. And for all the women participants, those who were successful in maintaining normal weight (as opposed to losing weight) over the 15-year period, averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate activity, from walking their dogs, to jogging or swimming, or even playing with their children.

According to the lead authors out of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School this research could help weight experts better understand why certain women gain weight as they age, as compared with others who live the same lifestyle. "Because the average U.S. adult gains weight with age, developing ways to prevent unhealthy weight gain would help them avoid having to lose weight and then trying to maintain that loss. Compared with the vast body of research on the treatment of overweight and obese individuals, little research exists on preventing weight gain," the authors write.

The data also suggest that the 2008 federal recommendation for 150 minutes per week, while clearly enough to lower the risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, is insufficient for weight gain prevention if women are not cutting calories. The authors also noted that for heavier women, cutting calories and upping their physical activity to 60 minutes or more was the only way to lose and then later maintain healthy weight in that group.

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Lincoln Brigham

    "Moderate" exercise as defined by the medical community is usually only one step above sitting on the couch. It should be no surprise then that it takes so many hours of "moderate" activity to see results.

    March 24, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Michael Wood, CSCS

    I am a fitness professional with over 25 years experience, from nationally recognized personal trainer to Division 1 strength & conditioning coach to researcher at the Tufts Center for Aging and Nutrition. The conclusion being drawn from this study is that women who want to lose weight, or just maintain their weight, need to commit to at least an hour of “exercise” every day. This conclusion is misleading, it doesn't work and it doesn’t make practical sense.
    The key to weight loss through exercise is quality, not quantity. Here’s a recent study and recommendation that will help a LOT more people lose weight than the JAMA researcher’s advice. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jsAw5NSIsgcooRTDJ0exZlM0e0HgD9E3G4MO2

    Mike Wood
    Chief Fitness Officer
    Koko FitClub

    March 24, 2010 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. David Rachleff

    I am a 41 year old male working in Medical Education in San Francisco. I used to be 40 pounds heavier and hardly doing any exercise. For the last 9 years, I have been on a fairly consistent good healthy food program of my own. It is made up of a mediterranean diet for the most part, lots of fruits and vegetables, non-fat dairy products, nuts,beans, fish and some other things thrown in. I count my calories and try hard to watch what I eat. I get up 4 weekday mornings a week just after 6am and go to the gym for an hour of hard cardio exercise. On weekends, I extend my exercise program to include some weight training and more cardio. I have never felt better, rarely get sick, drink lots of water and get good sleep. Many weeknights you may find me in bed with a book by 8:30 or 9pm and soon after asleep. Thank you, Dr. Gupta for keeping us a fit nation!!

    March 25, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Susan Boyko

    Mike Wood: I was interested to read the link you posted, but it doesn't work. Can you give us a citation or another link?

    March 30, 2010 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. steveo in kcmo

    not surprising conclusions. I'm glad the fine Dr has presented the work even though its very bad news for majority of women who arent either thin to begin with or real, serious workout fiends.
    conclusions sound about right to me....
    I didnt get trained by some D1 guy, I WAS a D1 athlete and on the US Natl team in another sport, have at least a 1st degree black belt in 3 different styles, done over 100 triathlons, two dozen marathons, am a licensed skydiver, pilot and scuba diver and blah blah, blah, blah. still dosent make me an expert on anyone but me.
    what's painfully obvious is this; diet is 2/3 of it and exercise only the other third. but the economic powers that be and their agents, the advertising cabal and the tv networks, wont let them be.
    most americans, especially women have unhealthy lifestyles which revolve far too much around eating, talking about it, thinking about it, watching it, preparing it, reading about it, cleaning up after it, going to the mall to watch someone else do it, etc, etc ad nauseum.
    if americans spent half that time being responsible citizens and helping change society to assist those less fortunate who agree to help themselves, we'd be a far better AND thinner nation. yea.......
    10-15 miles a week of regular *free* walking a week, some cardio and 2x/week weight training is all most need for the exercise part..
    for the eating part, this country in general has a very broken lifestyle fostered by too much tv and an economy where 2/3 of GDP is fueled by going to a mall and buying junk you dont want, need or can afford.
    your average american is emotionally needy with poor ability to resist advertising and peer pressure, low mental discipline and possesses such a passel of OCD-like behaviors they cant control they'll never get mentally/emotionally healthy until they straighten out their heads.
    think I'm harsh? then try this. I'll bet 85% of people cant do it:
    if you cant sit at home and read or do some other solitary activity which requires you to be alone (NO cell phone!), just you and your thoughts for 4-6 hours once/ twice a week and not come emotionally unglued, then you arent even comfortable in your own skin.
    if your mouth and your cell phone are your emotional safety values, you're heading for a bad outcome.
    until you get there, theres little hope for you, period. your mind needs to get strong first. and most people wont do the work to get there.
    I know how I got there but that wont help you especially if I tell you hard work, willpower and resisting peer pressure were key.
    once youve conquered your mind, you can then proceed to your body which will then allow you to extend that to your lifestyle and career then possibly assist those around you in doing the same.
    but most people wont. they'll be content to obsess about cheese cake and complaining to anyone who'll listen about how unfair life is and watch an episode of american idol while yapping on a cell phone.
    yea, good luck with that......

    March 31, 2010 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Lily

    I am not a specialist or a fitness expert, but I am a middle aged women that experienced this weight gain process. Before the age of 35-36 I was never heavier then 110 lbs (I'm 5ft 3in. tall). I should mention that I lived my first 33 years in Europe and then I moved to US. In US, although I ate normal sized portions, within a couple of years a started gaining weight. Weight that I'm struggling to this day to lower. I am now 51 and weigh 176lbs! I don't go to gym or run around the park or bike or swim, but I never did those things when I was in Europe either. My activity consists in a lot of work around the house (remodeling my house: puting drywall, installing floors, doing landscapping). So I think the problem is the diet that I followed and that is encouraged here in US: low-calories, low-fat diet. In Europe the food pyramid is exactly oposite to that here: most of our diet should consists of protein, completed with lots of vegetables and some fruits (not all, because some are loaded with sugar!) and the very tip of the pyramid are the "floury" items (consisting of good grains with lots of fiber). The science of the human body shows that this is the only way to start burning the excess fat and have the insulin under control, doing what is suppose to do. It took me so many years to realize that I should go back to my youth diet, which in US is named ATKINS. I started it 3 DAYS ago and I already lost 6.5 lbs. I intend to make this my life long diet and just be active around the house, as I always was. During these 3 days my blood sugar dropped from 125 to 105! I'm becoming normal again....I would recommend this to anybody who wants to be healthy, but does not want to spend so much from the so-little-free-time we have away from our family.

    March 31, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Samantha Thomas

    Healthy weight is easy to maintain, just watch your diet and always exercise.`""

    June 17, 2010 at 03:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Isaiah Roberts

    it is easy to achieve healthy weight by just being conscious with what you eat;'*

    September 8, 2010 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Petite Tops `

    healthy weight may not be achieved easily if you are very lazy to exercise:*.

    October 11, 2010 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Harvey Morris

    maintaining a healthy weight can be tricky because it revolves around genetics and some other factors ;:;

    December 16, 2010 at 01:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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  16. leanmidagemachine

    It's not rocket science. Most people eat a lousy diet and they continue to eat the same number of calories they did in their 20s and 30s, which you cannot do at 40 and over. You just can't. I'm almost 50 and I lost weight (60 lbs) over a decade ago and have kept it off by rarely eating crap food (chips, pizza, fries, soda, cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc.) and other processed junk, eating more fruits and veggies, and exercising every single week day 30 min and every weekend 2 hours. I have a home gym so it's easy to get up early and do it, no excuses. I am 5'4" and 120 lbs lean. Oh, and menopausal has nothing to do with it. That's another excuse. Basically you have to be serious about getting and keeping weight off. It needs to be as important as keeping your a** clean and your teeth brushed. You manage to do that all the time, right? Over a decade ago I made the choice to get up early and do my exercise before husband or kids or pets or schedules could prevent it.

    September 14, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.