Maintaining High Activity Levels During Young Adulthood Helps to Lessen Weight Gain as Young Adults Transition to Middle Age

Maintaining high levels of physical activity during young adulthood has been shown to minimize weight gain and increases in waist circumference, particularly in women, according to a large, multicenter study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and published in the December 15, 2010, edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Over 20 years, men maintaining high activity gained 2.6 fewer kilograms and women maintaining higher activity gained 6.1 fewer kilograms compared to their counterparts in lower activity groups. Weight gains in study participants with moderate or inconsistent activity levels were similar to those in the low-activity group. Participants who followed U. S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (30 minutes a day, 5 days per week) gained significantly less weight compared to participants who did not.

Participants, who were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, included 3,554 men and women between the ages of 18 and 30, balanced by age, sex, race, and educational status. Participants were examined initially in 1985-86 in four U.S. cities (Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago, Ill.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Oakland, Calif.). Follow-up examinations were performed 2, 5, 7, 10, 15, and 20 years later. At each exam, participants answered a physical activity questionnaire and were measured for height, weight, and waist circumference.

Obesity, which has been associated with chronic disease, disability, and higher health-care costs, now exceeds 30% among U.S. adults, but prior to the CARDIA study, research focused primarily on obesity treatment rather than weight gain prevention. In addition, although public health guidelines recommend regular physical activity to prevent age-related weight gain, little data prior to CARDIA supported activity during young adulthood, when the highest risk of weight gain occurs.

“It is important to note that maintaining high activity levels over 20 years did not prevent weight gain entirely but did minimize the amount gained,” says lead author Arlene L. Hankinson, MD, MS, of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Based on these data, minimizing weight gain may be a more realistic benefit of long-term activity, especially in women.”

Link to article on JAMA Web site: