This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that take a look at recent research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. We'll focus on news you can use and present results in plain English, without all the techno-garble that can make many research studies overwhelming to read, let alone understand and explain to somebody else. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it!
>> Regular exercise may stave off weight gain
Cutting back dramatically on workouts, even if you restart the same workouts, may make the extra pounds you gain during a layoff much harder to lose, a recent study found.
“When the priority of regular exercise changes because of obligations to family and work,” researcher Paul T. Williams wrote in the study’s conclusion, “the temptation to forgo activity must be countered by the knowledge that the benefits gained by being active are not readily reclaimed.”
The conclusion is based on information Williams has gleaned from his National Runners’ Health Study, begun in 1991, and has continued to track 40,000 participants, their running habits and health.
Williams called consistent exercise “an ounce of prevention.”
In addition the study found that running distances had to exceed 15.5 miles per week for men and 29.8 miles per week for women for substantial weight loss to occur. If subjects already ran longer weekly distances and decreased running but still maintained a longer weekly distance, they gained less weight than those who ran less weekly distance and decreased to even less.
“Our results suggest that sustaining regular activity, without prolonged interruption, may be pivotal to impeding the rise of obesity,” Williams wrote.
This corresponds to guidelines by the Institute of Medicine that suggest raising total energy expenditure to 160 percent to 170 percent of basal expenditure. That translates into about 60 minutes per day of walking for men.
Williams stressed that it’s not just about starting exercise but also maintaining it. Plus, he noted that although he has studied runners, one could also cycle, hike, swim or do anything else that raises your energy expenditure – and keep with it. He also states that age-related weight gain happens even in active people, and people will need to increase their activity to offset that gain.
“Prior recommendations have focused almost exclusively on promoting physical activity among the sedentary,” he wrote. “However, the benefits of such advocacy may be transitory unless activity is maintained consistently without extended interruption.”
So what? Bottom line, stop activity and get stuck with weight. That means staying active is just as important as getting active and although something is better than nothing, more time spent being active in a week will do more for keeping off unwanted weight – especially as we age.
For the scientifically minded: The study appeared in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise – 40(2):296-302, February 2008. Click here to view an abstract. Subscriptions or memberships are needed to view the full article.
>> Written exercise prescriptions can help motivate to exercise
Being told to exercise is one thing. Getting the message in writing apparently is entirely another, according to researchers in New Zealand.
Women who took part in an activity program with a prescription, i.e. written recommendations to get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, were more likely to actually get in their exercise over two years than those who weren’t in the program with the prescription.
Just like in the United States, levels of inactivity are high in the U.K. and New Zealand, with only about 40 percent of men and 28 percent of women meeting U.S. Surgeon General recommendations of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity five times a week, the researchers reported.
"Exercise-on-prescription" programs involve a health professional's written advice to be more physically active.
This study involved nearly 1,100 women ages 40 to 74. In addition to a written prescription, the participants also receive a monthly telephone call. There were higher compliance rates among those who received the recommendations in writing although not statistically significant. Still, researchers said written recommendations could be one way to help people get and stay active.
So what? Any way at all to help somebody get and stay active is something to try. Perhaps even retailers or instructor-trainers could try writing down simple, non-medical recommendations of 30 minutes a day at least five days a week since the act of having it written down may make some difference.
For the scientifically minded: This study appeared in the BMJ journal – 337:a2509, December 2008. Click here to view a full text of the article.
-- Therese Iknoian