Middle-Aged Women Need to Exercise An Hour a Day? Seriously?

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Senior woman on the beach

I'm not sure how this report is going to play in the major media, but I can guess. "Middle Aged Women Must Exercise An Hour A Day Or Gain Weight." Something like that for sure.

I hate it.

Let me tell you what I learned from the new JAMA article. The study followed over 34,000 women of roughly middle age for up to 15 years. These women reported not going on a calorie restrictive or weight loss diet during the study. Roughly every three years the women reported on their activity levels and body weight.

The women were initially grouped by their BMI into three groups: those with a healthy BMI under 25, those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 and those with a BMI of 30 or higher.

At the end of the study, the women were broken into groups that exercised by the federal guidelines of half an hour, five times a week (150 minutes), women who exercised between 150 minutes and an hour every day and women who exercised an hour or more every day. They then took their reported weight changes and analyzed the effect of exercise on weight gain.

The women in the study gained on average five and a half pounds over the length of the study.

A closer analysis showed that those women who began and ended the study with a BMI under 25 who exercised more than an hour every day maintained their weight. All other women gained weight during the study.

The study's conclusion:

Among women consuming a usual diet, physical activity was associated with less weight gain only among women whose BMI was lower than 25. Women successful in maintaining normal weight and gaining fewer than 2.3 kg over 13 years averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity throughout the study.

What does this mean for most of us? NOT what the headlines say it says, in my opinion. Those headlines will have women believing that they must exercise over an hour a day -- every day -- in order to maintain their weight. But note that this was only successful the small group of women who began the study with BMI under 25.

For women women with a BMI over 25, exercise had no effect on weight gain. For most of us, we must concentrate harder on eating a balanced diet with sufficient lean proteins, plenty of vegetables, fruits, lower fat dairy. We must limit the intake of process and manufactured foods.

That is, we must attend to our diet along with exercise in order to maintain our weight.

When looked at this way, it makes me ponder what it about the current American diet that so many women eating a "normal" diet still gain weight? Why Americans and not necessarily those women in other countries?

I'm laying the major concern at the much-too-easy availability of processed foods and the ingredients contained in those foods. We could discuss high fructose corn syrup and the dangers of raising all our feedstock animals on a diet of corn. THAT discussion could be an entire weeks worth of posts. Instead, I'll let other make that argument. Read Michael Pollan if you haven't already, or check out King Corn.

I am going to make a simple recommendation for any middle aged women who want to control their weight: limit your starchy carbs to 3-5 servings a day.

  • A serving is one slice of bread, 1/2 C of rice, one small baked potato (or 1/2 of a normal baked potato).
  • Consume those starchy carbs early in the day. remember carbs are used for energy. If you will be sitting on the couch watching TV all evening, then going to sleep, you don't need that much energy.
  • Keep those carbs as unprocessed as possible. WHOLE foods are the best. Brown rice, slow-cook oatmeal, quinoa, dried beans.
  • Whole processed grains (like whole grain bread) are still processed.

In general eat as close to nature as possible. Forgo processed foods or foods with a lot of ingredients in them. Learn to bake your own bread. Maybe learn to make your own pasta. Limit the canned and packaged items you consume.

Debra Roby is a personal trainer who blogs about fitness and the middle aged woman at Weight for Deb


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