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Exercise trumps diet for consumers looking to keep weight off

Researchers suggest physical activity is the key to maintaining a healthy weight

Photo (c) FotoDuets - Getty Images
Many consumers who lose a significant amount of weight struggle to keep the weight off, and researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus might know why.

According to a recent study, the researchers found that consumers looking to keep weight off should prioritize an exercise regimen over a strict diet.

“This study addresses the difficult question of why so many people struggle to keep weight off over a long period,” said Dr. Danielle Ostendorf. “By providing evidence that a group of successful weight-loss maintainers engages in high levels of physical activity to prevent weight regain -- rather than chronically restricting their energy intake -- is a step forward to clarifying the relationship between exercise weight-loss maintenance.”

Staying active

The researchers wanted to see the most effective way for consumers to maintain weight loss, and they focused their study on “weight-loss maintainers” -- those who keep off 30 pounds or more over the course of the year.

In this study, weight-loss maintainers were compared with two other groups: those who were currently overweight/obese but whose BMIs were similar to those of the pre-weight-loss maintainers, and those of average body weight.

In evaluating all three groups, the biggest takeaway was that physical activity was more important for keeping weight off than following a strict diet.

The researchers found that weight-loss maintainers were moving much more than any of the participants in the other two groups, which could be the primary reason exercise was working better than diet. Weight-loss maintainers were taking more steps -- around 12,000 steps per day -- compared with just 6,500 steps for the obesity group and 9,000 steps for the average weight group.

Moreover, the researchers evaluated how many calories the participants burned, and the weight-loss maintainers were burning most of their calories due to physical activity, especially when compared with the other two groups.

When it came to consuming and burning calories, the weight-loss maintainers weren’t that far off from the overweight group, though they were burning 300 more calories than the group of average weight.

“Our findings suggest that this group of successful weight-loss maintainers are consuming a similar number of calories per day as individuals with overweight and obesity but appear to avoid weight regain by compensating for this with high levels of physical activity,” said Dr. Victoria A. Catenacci.

Keeping track

In an effort to help consumers stay on track with their weight loss goals, a recent study found that doctors should be as specific as possible when offering tips to their patients. Researchers found that offering specific bits of wisdom and avoiding generalities like “lose weight” or “exercise more” is more effective in helping consumers lose weight.

“Just telling somebody to lose weight or improve their diet or physical activity didn’t work,” said researcher Gary Bennett. “The doctor should instead encourage patient participation in a specific program.”

Recent studies have also found that tracking food intake is beneficial for weight loss, while counting calories may not be as important as many think.

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