Health Notes: Activity key in weight loss; exercise increases quality of life

Exercise and activity remain not only vital to losing weight and keeping weight off, but great amounts will help somebody get the results they seek. A recent paper by the American College of Sports Medicine supports this point and offsets schemes to lose weight quickly as well as messages that exercise isn’t important.

You want information about health, physical activity, exercise and wellness, but you don’t want all the techno-science garble that makes most report overwhelming to read, let alone understand. In SNEWS® Health Notes, an occasional series, we take a look at some recent research and explain it in a way that makes sense. If you have suggestions or comments, let us know!

>> Physical activity needed to achieve and maintain weight loss 

Exercise and activity remain not only vital to losing weight and maintaining the weight loss, but great amounts will help somebody get the results they seek.

A recent paper by the American College of Sports Medicine reviewed studies and emphasized that point, effectively trying to offset all the lose-weight-quick schemes and exercise-isn’t-important messages often seen.

The position paper by the group, released earlier this month in its journal in tandem with a release by the American Dietetic Association in its journal, stressed that the best method to take off--and keep off--pounds is to decrease food and calories and combine this with increases in activity.

The basic guidelines are:

To prevent weight gain: 150-250 minutes of exercise a week of moderate-intensity activity, or up to about four hours. For example, somebody could do as little as 30 minutes, five days a week.

To lose weight:
Greater than 250 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, or more than four hours a week, e.g. one could do 45 minutes a day for four days with a longer workout of about 90 minutes on a fifth. Less than that according to studies provide only modest weight loss.

To maintain weight after loss: Greater than 250 minutes a day, as above.

“In the midst of a genuine crisis in Americans’ health related to what we eat and how little we move, these guidelines are meant to provide an understanding and clarification of the role of physical activity and its relationship to weight,” said Joseph E. Donnelly, Ed.D., FACSM, chair of the writing committee, in a statement. “Now that we have the latest information on how much physical activity is part of the equation, we can continue the educational process to help people who struggle with their weight.”

So what? Exercise and activity are absolutely vital to prevent, to maintain and to lose weight, no matter what somebody hears on TV.

For the scientically minded: The position paper appeared in the February 2009 issue of the ACSM’s journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Click here to read a summary of the paper. Click here to view the entire paper as it appeared in the journal.

>> Feel better and like your life better with more exercise

Anecdotally, everybody knows or is at least told that they’ll simply feel better if they exercise and be more active, and some studies have shown some correlation. But a study in early February in the Archives of Internal Medicine is a definitive statement on that, based on its large number of participants and how many participants continued the program for the entire six months.

Basically, what we hear and assume to be true – you feel better when you’re active – is true. The study showed that all measures of physical and mental aspects of quality of life improved with exercise. In fact, the more a subject exercised, the better the person felt. This was true no matter if the participant lost weight or not. One exception was in an aspect called “bodily pain,” i.e. if something hurt, it continued to hurt. But in other areas, such as social functioning, emotional problems, vitality and mental health, subjects – 430 post-menopausal women ages 45 to 75 – felt better.

There were four groups in the study: a control group that did not exercise, and three groups whose members exercised at eight 50 percent, 100 percent or 150 percent of respected recommendations, with the lowest group doing only about 74 minutes a week.

So what? Someone will feel better with exercise of a low- to moderate intensity, even when only doing an hour or so a week, but the more someone does (within reason of course!), the better they will feel. And it won’t take years to feel it.

For the scientifically minded: The study appeared in the February 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (169 (3):269-278, 2009). Click here to see an abstract (Accessing the full text online requires a subscription or fee). 

--Therese Iknoian