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May 4

May is Physical Activity Month: Walk or Bike to Work

Most effective weight loss plans include changes to both diet and physical activity to burn the calories you are eating.  The term “energy balance” refers to the balance between the energy (calories) you take in through foods and drinks and the energy you burn by being physically active. Your body stores extra energy as fat when you  are taking in more calories than you are burning. Most adults need to eat around 2,000 calories and be physically active 30-60 minutes a day to maintain a healthy weight.

Older adults who are overweight frequently face severe health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, which can be made worse when it is difficult
to walk and move around. Research done at Washington University studied 100 overweight older adults for a year. Results revealed that diet alone and exercise alone improved physical function. But, neither was as effective as a balanaced diet and exercise together, which improved physical function by 21 percent.

In addition to improved physical function the study looked at quality of life, and again, those in the combined diet-exercise group had the biggest improvements. Strength, balance and walking speed all showed the most consistent improvement in the diet-exercise group. It may be just as important for older people to improve physical function and quality of life as to reverse or treat risk factors for cardiovascular disease, especially those who are obese. Combining exercise and diet change is not designed so much to extend life expectancy as it is to improve the quality of life during the remaining years, and to help older adults avoid being admitted to a nursing home.

A potential drawback of voluntary weight loss is that when older people lose fat, they also tend to lose muscle and bone. In this study, the researchers did find slight reductions in muscle and bone density among those who lost weight, but the decreases were smaller in the combined diet-exercise group than in those who dieted or exercised alone. -The New England Journal of Medicine, March 31, 2011

Although losing weight by eating a balanced diet and/or exercise is beneficial, when older adults do both, they get a greater improvement in physical function. Maintaining muscle is important for independence.

Find out more about The Weight of the Nation.