Topic of the Month – March 2015: Gaining Fat Weight As We Age- Is It Lack of Exercise or Calories?

by on March 8th, 2015

Doctor Paul Kennedy
The answer to the “Topic of the Month” title above would seem to be obvious. Both lack of exercise and over-indulgent eating habits are involved in our struggle to maintain a healthy body weight and reduce body fat. With approximately two-thirds of our population considered to be overweight or obese, the question in this article title is a reasonable one. Clearly, our overconsumption of food, especially “fatty” foods and foods laced with sugar (sodas and many prepared foods), are part of the formula for an overweight and/or obese population. But what is the contribution of daily activity and exercise with respect to relentless weight gain in every age group of our population? Well, although most would blame our relentless consumption of the calorie “dense” foods referenced above, it appears that our levels of movement (daily planned and unplanned activity or movement) has been identified as the major factor in our national struggle against unhealthy weight gain and obesity. In every age group, we are experiencing health issues directly related to our increasing body weight that appears to begin as early as the pre-teen years as a result of a simple lack of movement throughout the day.

An interesting study published in the American Journal of Medicine last August (Vol.127, Issue 8), tracked the increases in abdominal obesity of subjects over a 20 year period. In essence, it was found that although individual daily calorie consumption surprisingly did NOT significantly increase over the study time frame (1988 to 2010), levels of physical activity over the same time period dropped significantly! For example, the percentage of women that reported NO physical activity increased from 19.1% (about one out of five) in 1994 to 51.7% (over half) in 2010. In addition, the most significant rise in BMI (Body Mass Index) was found among younger women from 18 to 39 years of age. As for the men in the study, the number of non-exercisers increased from 11.4 % to 43.5% over the same time period. This means that in the last twenty years or so the number of people that participate in NO physical activity or leisure time activity was nearly HALF of the working population!

When the data was studied with respect to ethnicity and age, it was found that women, and especially black and Mexican-American women, showed the most significant drop in physical activity as they aged. This can have an influence not only on weight increases but this decrease in physical activity may directly affect an increased tendency for heart and circulatory health issues including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Therefore, although proper nutrition, reductions in dietary fat and sugar and moderate calorie intake are certainly important and effective for controlling our weight as we age, a sedentary lifestyle actually appears to have a much greater impact on our long-term health and disease prevention than any other factor.

Sustainable physical activity on a regular basis has been shown again and again as the most effective way to reduce fat weight and, of course, improve the heart and circulatory system and reduce the incidence of acquired diseases–particularly Type II diabetes. Just 20 to 30 minutes a day of brisk walking, for example, or other regular physical activity can assist in weight loss and, more importantly, help to prevent additional weight gain. Regularly scheduled strength training will also assist in enhancing muscle tissue that is critical to maintaining and/or improving one’s metabolism—another critical factor in preventing fat weight gain. Of course, if you have been sedentary for an extended period of time, make sure that you check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. So don’t just depend on dietary calorie reductions for weight loss—although they are generally helpful when accomplished in moderation. Regular exercise appears to be the vital key to more permanent and healthful weight loss. And, as you might expect, the associated systemic and long-term benefits of regular exercise, especially with respect to heart and circulatory issues, go far beyond weight control.

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy for Leisure Fitness and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit” Topic of the Month for March 2015. Good luck with YOUR program! I KNOW you can do it!