How important is exercise in maintaining weight?

Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Brown University, looked at 2,500 people who lost an average of 60 pounds and kept the weight off for an average of six years. Wing found those individuals exercised approximately an hour each day. “Patients, participants who have lost weight and kept it off really exercise more to the level of 2800 calories a week. If you translate to walking, they’re walking 28 miles a week,” said Wing. (Incidentally, this is consistent with the Lean for Life Program’s recommendation of 10,000 steps – 4 miles – per day)

The current recommendations for weight loss and maintenance are to exercise at least 150 minutes a week (approximately 21 minutes per day), and to follow a reduced calorie diet. The study data came from the University of Pittsburgh’s National Weight Control Registry, a repository of information on weight loss. Wing also reported those who were successful at keeping weight off did a mixture of different physical activities. “They walk a lot and they do other things including … strength training, bike riding , aerobic dance,” Wing said.

Weight loss experts say that exercise won’t do much good if you eat too much. “I think there’s no question that for long-term permanent weight loss you really do have to make long-term permanent changes in what you eat and your physical activity,” said Wing.

Studies suggest that short bouts of exercise during the day are as effective as one long period in maintaining weight loss for women. And while an hour-a-day exercise regime may be discouraging for some people, experts emphasized that any amount of exercise done on a regular basis would be better than none.