(IVANHOE NEWSWIRE) – Women especially, will gain less weight by middle age if they engage in moderate to vigorous activity nearly every day of the week starting as young adults, according to this study.
Women particularly benefited from high activity over 20 years, gaining an average of 13 pounds less than those with low activity; while men with high activity gained about 6 pounds less than their low-activity peers. High activity included recreational exercise such as basketball, running, brisk walking or an exercise class or daily activities such as housework or construction work.
"Everyone benefits from high activity, but I was surprised by the gender differences," lead author Arlene Hankinson, M.D., an instructor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was quoted as saying. "It wasn't that activity didn't have an effect in men, but the effect was greater in women. Now women should be especially motivated."
There could be many reasons for the gender difference, Hankinson said. Women are less likely than men to overestimate their activity, according to previous studies. "Men may not be getting as much activity as they report," Hankinson explained.
In addition, men in the high-activity group compensated by eating more than their low-activity counterparts, which could have led to more weight gain. The highly active women didn't eat more than low-activity women in the study. One of the many ways to achieve the study's definition of high activity level was 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week.
The study looked at 1,800 women and about 1,700 men participants who are part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, a multi-centered, longitudinal, and population-based observational study designed to describe the development of risk factors for coronary heart disease in young black and white adults.
"This paper is another example of how the CARDIA study has contributed to our knowledge about the importance of initiating healthy habits early in life and vigilantly maintaining them," paper coauthor Stephen Sidney, M.D., associate director for clinical research at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, was quoted as saying. "Common medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity have their origins in childhood and can generally be prevented by maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet throughout life."
Hankinson's research is the first to measure the impact of high activity over 20 years between young adulthood and middle age and to frequently examine participants (seven times) over that period. Study participants are more likely to remember and accurately report their behavior with regular exams, she said.
"The study reinforces that everyone needs to make regular activity part of their lifestyles throughout their lives," Hankinson said. "Not many people actually do that." The active group in the study comprised only 12 percent of the participants.