Walk to Ward Off Age-Related Weight Gain

Walking Every Day Prevents Extra Pounds From Adding Up as You Age

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 5, 2009 -- Walking as little as half an hour a day may keep the extra pounds from adding up as you get older.

A new study suggests that the more you walk, the less likely you'll gain weight as you age. Researchers followed nearly 5,000 men and women for 15 years and found that a half hour of walking per day reduced the usual weight gain per year by 1 pound among women who were the heaviest at the start of the study.

"Walking is of particular relevance because it is generally an affordable and accessible form of physical activity for most people," writes researcher Penny Gordon-Larsen of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues. "If we can increase walking participation by Americans, the evidence is strong that we will improve not only weight control but overall public health."

The results appear in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Walking Prevents Age-Related Weight Gain

It's a fact of life for most Western societies that aging is accompanied by weight gain. Previous studies have suggested that this age-related weight gain may result from a decrease in physical activity as people get older.

Although walking has been shown to promote weight loss and prevent obesity, researchers say this is the first study to look at the long-term effects of walking on weight gain and weight control.

The study examined walking habits and weight gain over a period of 15 years among a group of 4,995 men and women aged 18-30.

The results showed that the average body weight and BMI (body mass index, a measure of weight in relation to height) increased over time, but physical activity and walking decreased.

However, men and women who walked more in the early to middle adult years gained less weight and were more likely to lose weight or maintain their weight than gain weight as they got older.

The anti-weight gain effect of walking was greatest among heavy women. For example, the half hour of walking per day was associated with about 15 fewer added pounds over the 15-year study period. Results were similar but slightly less significant in men.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Miriam E. Nelson and Sara C. Folta of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University say this is the first study to demonstrate that walking has a protective effect on long-term weight gain.

"It lays the groundwork for future studies, which will help answer how much walking or physical activity in total is needed to maintain body weight over time."

SOURCES: Gordon-Larsen, P. Nelson, M. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2009; vol 89: 19-26; 15-16. News release, American Society for Nutrition.

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