Just How Useful Is Exercise at Controlling Weight?
One of the assumptions about why Americans are increasingly overweight is that we've become a nation of couch potatoes, burning far fewer calories in our daily lives than we used to. But a new study is challenging the idea that a drop in physical activity is one of the key factors in the obesity epidemic.
Amy Luke of Loyola University and her colleagues compared 149 women from two rural Nigerian villages to 172 African-American women from Chicago. On average, the Nigerian women weighed about 127 pounds whereas the U.S. women weighed about 184.
To their surprise, the researchers determined that after adjusting for the women's body sizes, there was no significant difference in calories the women burned through physical activity. On average, the Chicago women burned an average of 760 calories per day through physical activity while the Nigerian women burned an average of about 800 calories, the researchers report in the September issue of the journal Obesity.
The researchers found good evidence that diet was the culprit. The Nigerian women's diets were high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat and animal protein. The U.S. women consumed a diet containing about 40 percent to 45 percent fat and high in processed food.
The researchers stress that the findings do not mean it's not a good idea to get regular exercise, which has a host of health benefits including strengthening bones, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood and reducing the risk for cancer.
But when it comes to controlling weight, the new study indicates that diet may play a more important role. People who exercise more may just increase their caloric intake.
Speaking of tips for losing weight, Consumer Reports this week released the results of a survey of 21,632 readers about how they stay thin. The survey found that of those who reported that they were either always thin or successfully lost weight were more more likely reported six key behaviors compared to failed dieters:
--Watch portions. Sixty-two percent of those who successfully lost weight carefully monitored the portions they ate, as did 57 percent of the "always thin," compared to only r 42 percent of the failed dieters
--Limit fat. Fifty-three percent of the successful losers and 47 percent of the always thin restricted fat to les than one-third of daily calories, compared with just 35 percent of the failed dieters.
--Eat fruits and vegetables. Forty-nine percent of successful losers and the always thin said they ate five or more servings a day at least five days a week, while 38 percent of failed dieters did so.
-- Choose whole grains over refined. Thinner people consistently opted for whole-wheat breads, cereals, and other grains over refined grains.
-- Eat at home. The more people ate out the more they weighed.
And, lastly, guess what?
-- Exercise. Regular vigorous exercise was strongly linked to a lower body mass index.
So exercise may not be completely useless after all.
What do you think? Does exercise help you stay thin?
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