A recent study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (2010; 303 [21], 1173–79) announced that women should average 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity daily in order to avoid long-term weight gain. Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston investigated activity levels and weight change among 37,079 women for 13 years. The subjects were said to have consumed a “usual diet” during the intervention period; no details were provided about diet.

At study completion, women with a BMI of less than 25 who exercised at least 60 minutes daily had gained the least amount of weight. The authors stated, “[Our] data suggest that the 2008 federal recommendation for 150 minutes per week, while clearly sufficient to lower the risks of chronic diseases, is insufficient for weight gain prevention absent caloric restriction. Physical activity was inversely related to weight gain only among normal-weight women; among heavier women, there was no relation, emphasizing the importance of controlling caloric intake for weight maintenance in this group.”

The results of this study offer compelling evidence of what it takes to avoid weight gain, but not everyone is thrilled. “Women are already feeling overwhelmed with rules and regulations for weight loss,” says Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness in Naperville, Illinois. “Currently, the recommendation of 30 minutes, 5 days per week, is not being met. How can I expect women to jump on the 60-minute bandwagon?”

Anderson urges fitness professionals to educate women on the importance of exercising for health, instead of focusing on rules and regulations for achieving a perfect body. “We have to get people exercising for all the right reasons and to stop searching for results that are typically not realistic or lasting,” she says. “If we’re teaching women to exercise for vanity versus sanity, the whole point of exercise is lost and undervalued.”

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