The Key to Maintaining Weight Loss? More Exercise than You Think

You go on a little diet and lose some weight. You feel better, look better, and want to keep it off. What will it take? Perhaps more than you think.

Maintaining Weight Loss May Require More Exercise than What We Thought

Compared to keeping the weight off, many people would say actually losing the weight is the easy part. Researchers wanted to know why it’s so hard to keep lost weight lost. The new study published in the Obesity research journal studied weight loss and weight regain by following contestants from one season of The Biggest Loser before, during, and six years following the competition. On average, the 16 contestants lost around 130 pounds each during the competition; however, within six years, many of the contestants (7 of the 14 who participated in the study) had regained all of the weight back (average of 5 pounds more than their precompetition weight) with only one having lost more weight. The rest fell somewhere in between, and the average weight loss was now clocking in at only 38 pounds (with an average weight loss of 81 pounds in those who were maintaining weight loss at somelevel compared to their precompetition weight).

Both diet and physical activity were studied, and researchers did find diet to be the key in the initial loss of weight. However, they did not find that diet had a significant impact in maintaining weight loss for those who did versus those who regained weight, because diets were similar across the board. For those who did maintain or exceed their weight loss, researchers attributed this success to not only significantly more physical activity, but more intense levels of physical activity (80 minutes/day of moderate activity, such as walking, or 35 minutes/day of vigorous activity, such as running) than those who regained their weight. So persistent and intense exercise was the key to maintaining weight loss.

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The Current Government Recommendations for Physical Activity

Keep in mind that the standard government physical-activity guideline through the CDC suggests 150 minutes/week of moderate activity or 75 minutes/week of vigorous activity with more extensive benefits necessitating 300 minutes/week moderate or 150 minutes/week vigorous. The findings in this study are significantly higher per week (560 minutes and 245 minutes respectively) than either the standard or advanced CDC recommendations.

Additional Benefits of Exercise

If you can’t meet the rigorous exercise demands today’s feature study seems to lay out, don’t let this deter you. Weight loss or not, even mild amounts of physical activity have many health benefits, and there is no shortage of studies that show this. We’ve covered a few here ourselves over the years. For example, one study found that physical activity can actually increase our life expectancy; the fascinating aspect of this study was that it’s never too late to begin an exercise regimen, with subjects starting as old as age 77 showing benefits. The same post covered a study that investigated the impact of desk jobs, resulting in subjects being sedentary all day; this study found a higher risk of death due to metabolic and heart problems in these sedentary subjects.

When compared to sedentary subjects, those who are physically active just 1–2 times a week have a 23% reduction in the risk for all causes of mortality—3–5 times per week takes this to a 46% reduction. In this same post, another study found a 43% decreased risk of death from breast cancer in women who were physically active prior to their diagnosis.

Physical activity also protects our genetic information, and exercise can be beneficial for patients with mild to moderate arthritis, so much so that exercise outperforms nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and without carrying all the dangerous side effects. Physical activity also improves muscle coordination, circulation, mood, brain function, metabolic activity, and oxygen intake, to name a few.

The upshot? I find it’s easy to be inactive. It’s also easy to get into an exercise rut. Meaning that you do the same things that become easy. You don’t push as hard. This is really what this new study is telling us. When you have someone pushing you, like in the biggest loser competition, you can get to those levels of exercise that are needed formaintaining weight loss. If you take your foot off the gas, it becomes harder. Hence, you may want someone pushing you. Maybe a friend or work out buddy. Or maybe a personal trainer or one of the many new apps that help you track your workout or have designed programs. Whatever you do, it seems like you need to “push it”!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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