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Maintaining Vigorous Activity Attenuates 7-yr Weight Gain in 8340 Runners


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 5 - p 801-809
doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31803349b1
BASIC SCIENCES: Epidemiology

Introduction/Purpose: Body weight generally increases with aging in Western societies. Although training studies show that exercise produces acute weight loss, it is unclear whether the long-term maintenance of vigorous exercise attenuates the trajectory of age-related weight gain. Specifically, prior studies have not tested whether the maintenance of physical activity, in the absence of any change in activity, prevents weight gain.

Methods: Prospective study of 6119 male and 2221 female runners whose running distances changed < 5 km·wk−1 between baseline and follow-up surveys 7 yr later.

Results: On average, men who maintained modest (0-23 km·wk−1), intermediate (24-47 km·wk−1), or prolonged running distances (≥ 48 km·wk−1) all gained weight through age 64; however, those who maintained ≥ 48 km·wk−1 had one half the average annual weight gain of those who maintained < 24 km·wk−1. For example, between the ages of 35 and 44 in men and 30 and 39 yr in women, those who maintained < 24 km·wk−1 gained, on average, 2.1 and 2.9 kg more per decade than those averaging > 48 km·wk−1. Age-related weight gain, and its attenuation by maintained exercise, were both greater in younger than in older men. Men's gains in waist circumference with age, and its attenuation by maintaining running, were the same in older and younger men. Regardless of age, women increased their body weight, waist circumference, and hip circumference over time, and these measurements were attenuated in proportion to their maintained running distance. In both sexes, running disproportionately prevented more extreme increases in weight.

Conclusion: As they aged, men and women gained less weight in proportion to their levels of sustained vigorous activity. This long-term beneficial effect is in addition to the acute weight loss that occurs with increased activity.

Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Donner Laboratory, Berkeley, CA

Address for correspondence: Paul T. Williams, Ph.D., Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Donner Laboratory, Berkeley, CA. 94720; E-mail:

Submitted for publication August 2006.

Accepted for publication December 2006.

©2007The American College of Sports Medicine