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Exercise 1 Hour a Day to Avoid Weight Gain

Women Who Maintain a Healthy Weight Get 60 Minutes a Day of Moderate Activity, Study Finds

Exercise and Weight Control: Study Results continued...

For those whose BMI was 25 or more, ''there was no relationship between physical activity and weight gain, but perhaps because they just weren't very active," Lee says. For these women who are already overweight, she says, it seems exercise must be combined with calorie reduction to control weight.

The women who started at a healthy weight and kept their weight healthy consistently got in an hour of moderate intensity physical activity daily, Lee's team found.

Lee isn't sure whether the findings apply to men as they age. "U.S. men [as a whole] are more physically active than women," she says, and less likely to be obese. Lee has served as a consultant for Virgin HealthMiles, a worksite activity program, and is on its scientific advisory board. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Exercise and Weight Control: Hard Work

The study results are no surprise to Suzanne Phelan, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and adjunct assistant professor of research at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I., who has researched the topic.

"To keep a normal body weight is hard work," she says. As you age, she says, "you have to exercise a lot whether you are normal weight or maintaining a weight loss."

In her recent research, Phelan found that women who have lost weight and are trying to maintain the loss may even have to put in a few more minutes a day than do normal-weight women who are just trying not to gain as they age.

Exercise can give those with a healthy BMI more bang for their buck, especially if they are lean and have built up muscle mass, says Peter Galier, MD, a staff physician at Santa Monica-UCLA & Orthopaedic Hospital in California and an associate professor of medicine at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

''As you get older, your basal metabolic rate [calories burned at rest] goes down," he says. Those who exercise can maintain muscle mass and perhaps not have as big a decrease as those who don't.

Exercise and Weight Control: What to Do

Although the one hour-a-day finding may be disheartening to the sedentary, Lee says, "I don't want this to be discouraging."

''I would say that any physical activity is good for health," she says. "The government recommendation of 150 minutes a week is clearly enough to reduce your risk of developing many chronic diseases.'' But it appears not to be enough for weight control, she says.

"If you want to do physical activity to control your weight, you have to do a fairly high level of it, and by that we mean 60 minutes a day. Once you are overweight or obese it is hard for physical activity alone to control weight. It has to be balanced with caloric reduction."

Being active doesn't necessarily mean running a marathon. "Most women [in the study] didn't do any vigorous activity," she says, but rather moderate activity.

What counts as moderate?

  • Brisk walking, 3 to 4 miles an hour
  • Casual bicycling
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Playing with grandchildren

If women choose to be more active -- jogging, swimming laps, fast cycling, Lee says, "you only need 30 minutes a day."

If an hour or 30 minutes still sounds overwhelming, Phelan says you don't have to do it all at once. “You can do it in 10-minute bouts,” she says.

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