What is the most important predictor of whether or not someone who loses weight will keep it off? The answer should be no surprise, it’s exercise.
This isn’t just an opinion of mine, the answer is based on a large study using hard data from the National Weight Control Registry. This registry keeps track of over 10,000 people who have lost over 30 pounds and, most importantly, have kept it off for over a year. The average age on the registry is 45 for women and 49 for men, and the average weight loss was 68.9 pounds which was maintained for 5 & 1/2 years. After analyzing some of the key factors in maintaining weight loss, exercise was found to be the most important one. In fact, 89.6% of women and 85.3% of men in this study exercise.
If we look back over the years since 1988 one of the major lifestyle differences is that people are exercising less. As daily activity decreases we see an increase in BMI and waist circumference. From this we can conclude that the increase in obesity over the years is a result of exercising less, not eating more. In fact, the data from the Registry shows us that a decrease in the amount of exercise will predict weight gain. This should be no surprise because when we increase the amount we move we decrease the amount of calories we store.
What is the most common form and amount of exercise for the people on the Registry? Walking is the preferred by most of the study participants and they engage in some sort of physical activity for about an hour a day. This walking must be done in a purposeful manner that increases the heart rate. That means that if you are staring at your phone and stopping to let the dog smell things every 10 yards it doesn’t count. Instead, put on comfortable workout clothes, leave the phone at home or put it in an arm or waistband to listen to music and set a good pace with your heart beating at over 100 beats per minute. Your purpose is to burn calories, because 72% of the people studied burn over 2000 calories per week exercising.
Creating the habit of exercising every day is an important part of weight loss. Remember that habits go beyond intention and willpower, they are automatic behaviors that you do every day. In order to form the habit of exercise you must schedule a time, preferably the same time every day (about 50% of people in the study exercise in the early morning). Other ways to create a habit include getting a workout buddy, setting a physical goal like a 5k, setting your workout clothes by your bed and of course, hiring a trainer! Most importantly you must schedule and prioritize working out, don’t just think you will do it whenever you get around to it. Check your plans and the weather for the week and decide what you will do and when, then write it down so that you have some accountability and your family and friends don’t see this as time you are available. You can even ask them to join you! Beware of any diet that says no exercise is needed, the data shows that long term success requires daily movement.
If you need help planning an exercise routine I offer online programs with daily tasks and reminders that are specifically designed to help you reach your goals. As a mom of 4 kids I am also very experienced at nagging if you need extra support. Give me a call today to help you establish a healthy lifestyle!
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