Keeping Weight Off Takes More Exercise Than You Think
Let's face it: losing weight requires hard work, and keeping it off can be even harder. If you've lost weight and want to keep it off, that oft-recommended 30 minutes of physical activity mustered a few days a week just ain't going to do the trick.
New research published in the current Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that women who want to sustain substantial weight loss need 55 minutes of dedicated physical activity five days a week on top of their normal daily activities to keep weight from creeping back.
That's actually in keeping with current weight-loss maintenance guidelines: the federal government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005" (the document is updated every five years) recommends 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily -- without overeating -- to sustain weight loss.
In the new study, John Jakicic, associate professor and chair of the department of health and physical activity at the University of Pittsburgh, placed 201 overweight and obese women who were enrolled in a weight-loss clinic into four groups with different combinations of physical activity amount (some burning 1,000 calories a week, others burning 2,000, depending on how much they weighed at the start of the study) and intensity (moderate versus vigorous).
All were told to eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day. Participants attended group meetings to talk about strategies for changing their eating and exercise habits. The intervention team checked in with telephone calls throughout the two-year study period.
The women were given treadmills to use at home (nice!); their other daily physical activities (such as walking from the bus stop to the office, climbing stairs, and the like) were taken into account.
Things looked good for women in all four groups after six months: Participants had lost an average of 8 percent to 10 percent of their original weight. But at the end of two years, most had put pounds back on: On average, the women in all four groups weighed only 5 percent less than they had when they started.
But about a quarter of the women managed to lose 10 percent of their weight and keep it off. These women had taken part in more of those telephone calls, adopted more of the new eating behaviors aimed at weight control, and eaten less fat than the women who didn't keep the weight off. They also moved around lots more, exercising for an average of 275 minutes a week, or 55 minutes for each of 5 days.
55 minutes may sound like a lot of activity to those who have trouble hoisting themselves off the couch for any minutes, any days per week. But for those of us who have struggled to combat chub-creep even when we exercise a lot, every single day, these findings come as no surprise.
Jakicic says that the recommendation for 30 minutes of physical activity several days a week is aimed at general health, not at weight loss or maintenance. He says this study's findings are right in line with the government's recommendations, but they don't sound as daunting. "We're saying 'Do your normal lifestyle activities plus 55 minutes of purposeful activity,'" he explains. "We're giving people credit for the activities they do anyway." It still adds up to 80 or 90 minutes, he says, "but we're not selling it as 90 minutes" so as not to scare people off.
(By the way, Jakicic admits he's "not a firm believer" in the value of housework as a weight-loss or -maintenance activity. "You should clean your house anyway," he says. Better to step up your daily walking or biking routine, he suggests.)
An accompanying editorial notes that the study shows it's hard to maintain a program of 55 minutes' activity a day, even when someone gives you a treadmill and calls you every so often to remind you to use it. The editorial, written by Warren Thompson of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and James Levine, designer of the Walkstation, further observes that the study's requisite amount of physical activity "can be achieved through a combination of strategies, including increased formal exercise, a modified work and school environment that allows for movement while working and learning, and a modified home environment with less television and more movement. Further research in sustainability of activity is urgently needed if we are to solve the obesity epidemic."
Have you lost weight -- and kept it off? How long do you need to stay on the treadmill (or whatever) for it to make a difference in keeping weight gain at bay? And what kinds of daily lifestyle activities do you think are most effective at keeping you trim?
Coming tomorrow: In light of my story in today's health section about soy's potential effect on men's sperm concentrations, we're going to take a close look at soy products' health benefits and risks.
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