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By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD   Date 4/7/10

It’s early April and so far Washington, D.C. is experiencing one of the warmest Aprils on record. Yesterday, an area suburb reached a high of 93 degrees! Its official, we’ve cut through the red tape of spring and are quickly whirling toward the hot (not to mention humid) summer heat. It’s time to cue the glossy magazines that will be encouraging us all to “Get Our Bodies Beach Ready” and “Find Six-Pack Abs” just in time for the summer.

Despite all of the wonder and glory that comes with being in shape for the summer, the women of the world received some disappointing news last week about exercise and weight loss that deserves a closer look. As you may recall, I’m especially devoted to this issue since my New Year’s Resolution was to be more diligent with my workout routine in an effort to be healthy, but also to stave off the dreaded weight gain that comes with aging.

Women, Exercise and Weight Loss
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed a large group (n=34,079) of middle aged woman, with an average age of 54 years, for 13 years. The objective of the study was to determine how much physical activity is needed over time to prevent weight gain in women consuming a typical diet. The results were enlightening.

On average, the researchers found that woman gained a little less than six pounds over the course of the 13 year study. However, the only women who were successful at not gaining weight were women with a healthy body mass index (BMI) (less than 25) at the beginning of the study and who exercised on average at lease 60 minutes a day. The researchers also highlight two other lessons learned from their research:
      Once overweight, the women in their study were unable to prevent weight gain by increasing physical activity levels; and 
      Maintaining at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day was necessary for the women to maintain their weight and potentially prevent weight gain.

Diet and Physical Activity Are Key
Once this study was reported in the news, a lot of women may have felt discouraged about the work that they have been doing to improve their weight through exercise. Perhaps the idea of getting in shape for the summer now sounds like a far reach? While the results of this study are interesting, it is hardly the final word on weight loss. The key thing to remember is that to lose weight, or prevent weight gain, you have to look at both what you eat and your physical activity. This study only looked at the role of physical activity without taking in to account any changes to the participants’ diets. 

It goes without saying that two of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle are diet and physical activity. In fact, a recent position paper published by the American Dietetic Association and the American College of Sports Medicine stated that the greatest weight loss results were seen when physical activity was combined with dietary changes. Don’t get frustrated by this study, just make sure to add balance to your health by giving both diet and physical activity equal attention in your efforts to lose weight.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize
While this study might sound discouraging, don’t let it keep you from engaging in regular physical activity. Keep in mind that losing weight is one of the last benefits that you might receive from being active. If you are managing other health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or just trying to get more energy to keep up with the stress of everyday life, you’ll see and feel these benefits before you may ever lose a pound of body fat. Focus on the small successes that you gain by being active, and overtime you may be surprised with bigger results.

Go ahead, tell us about a recent success you’ve had by improving your lifestyle.


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