How would you feel if someone told you you’d have to exercise 60 minutes every day of the week to maintain a normal weight? Would you panic? Would you shrug your shoulders and say, “Yeah, that’s what I do already?” I ask because apparently that’s the latest word on exercise for women according to an article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (link to video clip on the report).
The article I first read from Tribune Newspapers stated “women should work out 60 minutes a day, seven days a week, to maintain a normal weight over their lifetime.” This particular study looked at women whose mean ages started at 54 and went up from there. They monitored these women’s weight and activity level for 13 years and found that 60 minutes a day of exercise every day was most effective in controlling weight gain… but only for women who started at a normal BMI.
I’m not sure what this means for those of us who aren’t in our fifties or older yet. Can we get away with exercising less? Or do we need to get into the habit of an hour a day now? I do know the authors encouraged women of any weight level to continue exercise regardless of whether or not that exercise would affect their weight, due to other health benefits such as heart health, blood pressure control, etc.
What most interests me is that this study looked at exercise only, not exercise and diet. In other words, the women in this study ate a normal diet, rather than some special diet designed to help them lose weight. This appeals to me because while I strive to eat healthy, I don’t cut out sweets and junk food entirely. I am very fond of dessert, chocolate, and most of all, chocolate dessert. I do try to get 3-5 helping of vegetables and fruit a day and drink lots of water, but I’m still eating my daily bit of meat and I refuse to give up my tea and coffee with milk and sugar. In other words, I like to enjoy my food, and I’m not going to count calories or try some weird-ass diet to stay eternally thin.
I would be willing to exercise an hour every day, however. And in fact, I pretty much do that already: two hours a week of water aerobics; four hours a week of karate classes; 30 minutes five times a week or more of Wii Fit or Just Dance or some other fitness game. Yeah, I get up and move around, and for the most part, I have maintained my weight. While I do weigh a bit more than I’d like, I’m still below a BMI of 25, which is what this study was looking at as “normal weight.”
So I exercise. But can everyone do that much activity every day? I work at home, and I will be the first to tell you I have a certain flexibility to my schedule that a lot of people I know don’t. How does someone who works a 12 hour shift 4-5 days a week find time to work up a sweat 60 minutes every day? What about those people I know who get up at the ass-crack of dawn to head into work and do not get home until after dark five days a week? And they still have work to finish before they can go to bed? How do those folks get in an hour of activity every day?
It’s hard to figure out. People are required to spend so much time working these days, especially in this economy where jobs are scarce and replacement employees are readily available. I have no easy answers for people who are caught in that kind of crunch. I can only suggest that you get in as much fun physical activity as you can, eat as healthy as you can, and try not to stress about the weight. Be reasonable and do what you can when you can. That’s the only advice I can give.
For the scientifically minded, you can find the abstract for the article in JAMA here.