Walking counters middle-age spread


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One of the most thorough studies on the effect of regular walking shows this simple activity can fight the slow-but-steady weight gain most people experience in middle age.

The study, which was funded by the federal government and published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed almost 5,000 men and women who were ages 18 to 30 when the study began. The participants, from four U.S. cities, were followed for 15 years and underwent six examinations during that period to look at their weight gain, nonwalking physical activity, walking activity and several other health measures. The researchers found that after accounting for nonwalking physical activity, caloric intake and other factors, walking countered annual weight gain. The change was the greatest for women who were heavy when the study began. Those women who walked an average of 30 minutes per day had about 17 pounds less weight gain after 15 years compared with women with no leisure-time walking.


Researchers found that the more a person walked, the greater the odds that weight was lost or maintained. The study is the first to demonstrate that walking has an independent protective effect on weight gain, said Miriam E. Nelson and Sara C. Folta, nutritionists at Tufts University, in an editorial accompanying the study. Evidence shows that walking at a 4-miles-per-hour pace for 150 minutes a week results in a modest weight loss and can lead to weight stability over time.

Walking is inexpensive, accessible and acceptable to many people, Nelson and Folta noted, and the results of the new study support walking as an important public health guideline.

‘The key now is to figure out how to get more Americans walking,’ they wrote. ‘Leisure activity in adults has remained low over the past decade, whereas sedentary activities have risen. Less than 5% of adults get the recommended 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity (of any type) per week. The most widely accepted mode of physical activity is walking, but many factors have converged to make it difficult to walk; these include the way we commute and work and the way our communities are built.’

-- Shari Roan