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Activity in young adulthood lessens chance of middle age weight gain

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Staying active in young adulthood, especially for women, helps fight middle-age weight gain, found in a research study that followed study participants for 20 years.

The findings show high-level activity over 20 years can help lessen weight gain in mid-life. Researchers measured activity levels of 3,554 men and women, ages 18 to 30 at the beginning of the study, finding those who maintained higher levels of activity gained fewer inches around the waist and smaller gains in body mass index compared to low-level activity.

Background study information from the study authors notes the prevalence of obesity since 1976 affects 30 percent of adults in the United States. Until now, little information was available about how to avoid weight gain in mid-life that accompanies aging.

The findings are from The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, 1985-1986 to 2005-2006. At follow-up, the participants who were from Chicago, Birmingham, Ala, Minneapolis, and Oakland, California were examined and questioned about 13 specific activities and level of intensity they performed over the previous year.

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The researchers say, "Importantly, women seemed to benefit the most from maintaining higher activity; the magnitude of weight change was more than twice as large among women compared with men. Similarly, participants who maintained the Health and Human Services-recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week gained significantly less weight compared with participants who did not."

Over the 20 years, and compared to the lower activity group, men who maintained high level of activity gained 5.7 pounds less. Women gained 13.6 fewer pounds. Waist circumference was 1.6 inches lower for men and for women 1.5 inches.

Study author Arlene L. Hankinson, M.D., M.S., of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, who led the study says, maintaining physical activity “makes a difference”. She adds, it is important not to let activity levels drop with age. Her suggestion is to “Find something that you love to do and keep doing it.”

The authors say the study highlights the importance of maintaining regular physical activity throughout young adulthood that includes 30 minutes of moderate to high-level activity daily to help curb middle age weight gain. Dr. Hankinson says nothing prevents age related weight gain entirely, but regular physical activity helps. For all adults, but for women especially, the study found high-level activity was associated with gaining less weight and fewer inches in the mid-section in later adulthood.