A study in the January issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is the first one ever to examine how walking by itself can help us keep the weight off for the long term. Since almost all of us with type 2 diabetes struggle with our weight, this is a key part of controlling it.
Walking may or may not be more beneficial for us that other forms of physical activity. That's not what the study was about. Rather, for most people walking is the least expensive and most readily available way to get the exercise that we all need.
The study monitored almost 5,000 men and women for 15 years. Walking works.
While walking helped all of the groups in the study, it helped the heaviest women the most. For example, if they walked just half an hour per day, after 15 years they weighed on average 18 pounds less that women who didn't walk at all in their leisure time.
Furthermore, the heaviest women who walked the most did the best. Two hours of walking per week was better than none. Four hours of walking was better than two. For everyone in the study the more they walked the greater the likelihood that they were able to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.
And the sooner we start walking in earnest the better. "An increase in walking over the early to middle adult years," the study also concluded, "was associated with less weight gain over time and an increased likelihood of weight loss and maintenance compared with weight gain."
The study didn't focus on people with diabetes. But that's coming. The study's lead author is Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina's Schools of Public Health & Medicine. "We are currently working on diabetes outcomes," she told me today.
Last summer I reported here on the "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans." That report concluded, "The scientific evidence for the effectiveness of physical activity alone in preventing weight regain following significant weight loss is limited." The new study fills that gap.
My friend Gretchen Becker, who also posts here at the Health Central Network, keeps encouraging me to write a book telling how to keep the weight off after you lose it. But I don't think that this is complicated enough for a whole book. The tricks aren't too much more than to continue to eat less and to exercise more. And until Professor Gordon-Larsen's report this month, we weren't even sure that exercise would help in the long run. Now we do.
The editors of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition thought the study by Professor Gordon-Larsen and her associates was so important that they made it the subject of an editorial in the January issue. But the editorial pointed out a problem.
Less than 5 percent of American adults get even 2.5 hours per week of moderate intensity activity -- of any type. Walking is the most common exercise. The key now, the editorial points out, "is to figure out how to get more Americans walking."
In the introductory post for my new "Fitness and Photography for Fun" blog I suggested three tricks to make your exercise fun. "For me," I wrote there, "it’s photographing nature. For some people it’s listening to music they love on their iPod. For others it’s going out with friends."
I asked Professor Gordon-Larsen if she knew any other tricks to get us out of our easy chairs. She didn't reply to that question. So what's your answer?