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How much do you need to work out?

We all know that one good way to stave off the middle-aged spread is to exercise. But how much exercise do we need? Well, we now have an answer -- at least for women.

A big new study says women who are middle-aged or older need to spend about 60 minutes every day doing moderate exercise just to avoid gaining weight. That's right: an hour every day.

The findings come from an analysis of data collected between 1992 and 2007 from 34,079 healthy U.S. women who participated in the federally funded Women's Health Study, an ongoing project that examines a host of health issues. It is being conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Over the 13-year period, women who ate a typical diet but on a daily basis engaged in about an hour's worth of moderate physical activity -- such as brisk walking -- were significantly less likely to pack on the pounds than those who were more sedentary, the researchers report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Women who exercised less than an hour a day were significantly more likely to gain at least five pounds. The researchers caution that was only for those who started out at a healthy weight.

That means that the federal government's current recommendation that everyone get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every week -- about 30 minutes a day for five days a week -- isn't enough to maintain a healthy weight, the researchers point out.

They stress that any amount of exercise is better than none, and the more the better. And just doing about 30 minutes a day for five days a week will reduce the risk of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and other health problems. But the findings underscore how much is needed to stay really fit.

I-Min Lee of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the study, says it remains unclear if the findings would hold true for men, because there are some important differences between men and women. More women are obese, for example. And men tend to be more physically active during their leisure time.

By Rob Stein  |  March 24, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity , Women's Health  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Losing weight with your honey is not always sweet
Next: Want to improve school lunches? Better have a thick skin.


Oh the humanity! Women should engage in physical activity to maintain a healthy weight?!

Posted by: MzFitz | March 24, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Other measures suggest that 10,000 steps a day is a good amount. Offhand I would guess that a woman walking at a moderate pace puts in almost that many steps in an hour.

It can be worked into one's day: steps at the grocery store, steps at the mall, steps at lunchtime all count the same.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 24, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

One mile is approximately 2000 steps, for a woman walking at a moderate pace.

Posted by: fxli | March 24, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Most of us will have to work to get to the 10,000 steps. Unless I go jogging or walk many miles, my pedometer doesn't show 10,000. Even walking my dog an hour a day only gets me to 5,500 or so steps total. I also don't have opportunities to walk my errands living where I live in the suburbs.

That said, I tend to work out a lot; my only problem is that I like to eat just as much. And you can't out-train a bad diet.

Posted by: sarahabc | March 24, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Well, it is hard for this middle aged woman to exercise about an hour a day. First, I am 50 years old, and when I was growing up, after age 13, there were no sports for me (not tall enough for basketball, not good at baseball,etc.) and I was NOT encouraged by anyone to engage in sports or to exercise. Also, I was lucky as I was naturally thin, when I was younger.

Now, at age 50, I need to exercise a lot and I do find it a struggle. I am working on this and I am struggling - I am reading every tip I can on the internet and I will be successful but it is very much a challenge. You can pooh pooh it all you want but if you are a middle aged woman you know what I am talking about.

give me tips (and not sarcasm or put-downs)

Posted by: pkm123 | March 24, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

For me, this is no revelation. It is brutal, but true. At 57, I have lost 103 pounds by doing 5 days/wk of cardio 40-50 min. and stretching at the gym; plus 3 days of upper-body free weights per week. That is the least I can get away with, but my body needs some down time (at least one day of no gym time).

I still need to lose another 9.5 pounds to get back into the "normal" BMI category of 25. This exercise routine is combined with a super-healthy, moderate, practical diet of lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.

I will always have to spend this much time at the gym and eat this way if I want to stay trim and healthy, not to mention enjoy a longer, more vital life. The great news is that a year ago, weighing 253, I was diagnosed w/ Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. But, working hard all year, I reached the goal of being able to go off all meds due to my weight loss brought about by exercise and diet changes.

They say "find an exercise you like" so being active will be fun and you will stay interested in exercising. Sadly, eating in front of the TV doesn't work for me. Aside from sex, that is about the only physical activity that I enjoy. Going to the gym 5 days a week is boring and brutal, but it freakin' works.

Posted by: efstewart | March 24, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Listening to your body is the most important thing. The intent of working out is to increase energy levels and feel good about yourself. Never overdo it or put undue stress on your body. Check out more fitness and health-related tips on

Posted by: gstallkamp | March 24, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

As I middle-aged woman, I can attest that 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a weeks is more than sufficient to avoid gaining weight, but only if you eat fewer calories, less fat and more fruits and vegetables than the "typical diet".

Posted by: wendy9 | March 24, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Wendy9 has it exactly right. A middle-aged woman or man can only eat approximately HALF of the calories they ate in their 20's and 30's unless they are exercising at a prodigious rate. This is common knowledge that I learned about 40 years ago. Exercise is basically for the cardiovascular and muscoskelatal benefits only. Your body weight is controlled basically by your diet. Always remember that very old, wise saying about food "If it tastes good, spit it out". Just eat plain old fruit, vegatables, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains..."Eat to live, not live to eat". And most importantly, address the psychological issues in your life that are causing you to medicate yourself with food, whether it be spousal, children, relationship or work issues.

Posted by: jimsandy1 | March 24, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Well, I can say that walking about 10,000 steps is around 60 minutes of exercise. I walk 60-70 minutes a day and at the end of the day, my pedometer says 10000-12000 steps. As for not having the time, walk with a friend and talk to them then instead of standing and talking. Get up and walk for 10 minutes to rest your brain or to think about what you need to do next.

It's been suggested that after an hour or two of sitting, your metabolism has decreased 10-15%, so walk 10-15 minutes every couple of hours.

Posted by: barbaramusser | March 25, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm confused at what exactly they mean by a "typical diet" - is this spelled out in the original study? Or are we to infer that their diets did not change at all over the 13-year study period and only those who exercised 60 minutes a day remained at the same weight?

Posted by: Arlington9 | March 25, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Does doing chores around the house count as moderate excercize?

Posted by: blasmaic | March 25, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

It frustrates me that this is always about individual self-discipline every time. Not that that is not an element. I enjoy exercise and rely on it for stress relief but my job and my responsibilities for my children dictate how much time I have to exercise on any given day, since I also believe adequate sleep is important to my health. We can't keep ratcheting up American's working hours and expect the population to be healthy. I benefit hugely from a health insurance policy that subsidizes my membership at the local YMCA. There ARE societal actions that can be taken to reduce obesity. It's not all personal.

Posted by: annenh | March 25, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"Always remember that very old, wise saying about food 'If it tastes good, spit it out.' Just eat plain old fruit, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains..."

Wow. I take your point, but that's such a sad way of looking at it. It's not that hard to retrain your palate so that what tastes good and what is good for you are not mutually exclusive. Some of my favorite foods in the world are fresh tomatoes, steamed broccoli, onions, and red bell peppers. (And I wasn't always like that -- I was raised on a pretty "typical" diet.) And there are plenty of ways to have tasty lean proteins and whole grains. What you call "plain old" foods, I call delicious.

That's not to say that I never let myself indulge in some bad processed foods, and I do have to work out to stay fit, but I completely disagree that healthy eating must be seen as such an awful chore.

Posted by: Janine1 | March 26, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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