Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
SPECIAL COMMUNICATIONS: Letters to the Editor-in-Chief
Winett, Richard A. Ph.D.
Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA
Eight years ago, Williams created a stir with body composition data on about 6000 male runners (5). He surmised that simply maintaining a constant volume of running would lead to gaining weight and getting fatter by middle age. Williams argued that the volume of physical activity and exercise need to be matched with age and recommendations changed to fit his findings.
Williams and Pate (6) in a much larger sample (60,617) of men, contacted at races and by survey in collaboration with Runners World, extended the findings from the earlier study. Running longer distances at any age was associated with a lower body mass index and waist circumference. However, body mass index and waist increased with age. Paralleling their sedentary peers, runners gained weight and body fat in middle age except at the higher volumes of running where gains were diminished. An algorithm showed that the 16 km·wk−1 runner at age 25 would need to be running about 64 km·wk−1 at about age 50 to maintain weight and waist circumference.
Williams and Pate were careful to note the selectivity of their sample and the danger of cohort effects. However, their primary conclusion is the need for amendment of cardiovascular exercise and physical activity recommendations to increase volume with age.
Closely following the recommendations from Williams and Pate without further interpretation may be a case of strict empiricism replacing public health policy, a network of scientific findings, and common sense. Currently, only a small percentage of the population meets minimal physical activity recommendations (30 min·d−1 of moderate activity, (4)). To meet Williams and Pate's recommendations, 50-yr-old men at the 50th percentile for V̇O2max and running at 75% of V̇O2max would need to run about 9h·wk−1 (1) with distance and time increasing each year. Men also would have to overcome the recovery and injury problems associated with high-volume training (1).
Williams and Pate may have ignored the current ACSM guidelines for resistance training and cardiovascular training based on science and practicality (1). The prescriptions from these guidelines do not require high-volume and high-frequency training at any point or at any age to increase and then maintain strength, fitness, or muscle mass.
Gaining weight and getting fatter apparently are associated with some processes of aging (3) and a failure to compensate for those changes by performing resistance training, maintaining cardiovascular training and 30 min·d−1 physical activity, and consuming slightly fewer calories per day; that is, a small correction in the "energy gap" (2). Maintaining body composition, strength, and fitness do not involve a life spent on an endless treadmill just to stay even. Williams and Pate seem to have provided the wrong prescription.
Richard A. Winett, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
1. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription
(7th ed.). Baltimore, MD, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005.
2. Hill, J. O., H. R. Wyatt, G. W. Reed, and J. C. Peters. Obesity and the environment: where do we go from here? Science
3. SPIRDUSO, W. W., K. C. FRANCIS, and P. G. MACRAE. Physical Dimensions of Aging
(2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2004.
4. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). Healthy People 2010: Understanding and Improving Health.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 2000.
5. Williams, P. T. Evidence for the incompatibility of age-neutral overweight and age-neutral physical activity standards from runners. Am. J. Clin. Nutr.
6. Williams, P. T., and R. R. Pate. Cross-sectional relationships of exercise and age to adiposity in 60,617 male runners. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc.