Women: Ride a Bike, Prevent Weight Gain
< Jun. 30, 2010 > -- Premenopausal women can help prevent weight gain by riding a bicycle just as effectively as by walking, according to new research.
Anne C. Lusk, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a research fellow in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, says that biking is particularly helpful at keeping pounds off premenopausal women who are overweight or obese.
Dr. Lusk and her team reported their findings this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
"Women of normal body weight can certainly benefit from biking," she notes. "But specifically for overweight and obese premenopausal women, bicycling just two to three hours per week makes them 46 percent less likely to gain more than 5 percent of their initial body weight over the long run."
In addition, the researchers found that slow walking - walking less than three miles an hour - does not help control weight.
Despite Physical Activity Recommendations, Obesity Rates Increasing
According to the study authors, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Sports Medicine recommended in 1995 that all American adults engage in a half hour a day of moderately intense activity.
Despite the advisory, two-thirds of Americans are now either overweight or obese, Dr. Lusk and her team note, while 16 percent of American children and adolescents are overweight, and one-third are at risk for gaining excess weight.
In earlier research, the study team had reported that brisk walking helped women who were at normal weight or had just lost weight to keep weight off, while slow walking showed no such benefit.
This time, the researchers decided to explore the potential health benefits that could be reaped if more women took up routine biking.
Just 0.5 percent of Americans over the age of 16 who commute to work use a bicycle. The researchers report that only 23 percent of bicycling commuters are women.
Medical history, body weight patterns, exercise habits, and general lifestyle data concerning more than 18,400 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study II were evaluated. The study participants, all women between 25 and 42 years old in 1989, were premenopausal through 2005 and had no physical impediments to exercise.
Dr. Lusk's team focused on the weight change that occurred between 1989 and 2005.
Exercise, Weight Loss Differences
In 1989, about half the women said they had spent time walking slowly, while almost 40 percent said they walked quickly and nearly half said they had spent some time riding a bike.
By 2005, the women had gained an average of more than 20 pounds, while significantly decreasing the total amount of time they spent being active.
However, women who were not biking at the beginning of the study but who did so to some degree by 2005 experienced significantly less weight gain on average. This was especially true among women carrying excess weight, for whom biking as little as five minutes a day made a difference. The researchers found that the longer women biked, the less weight they gained.
In contrast, those who decreased bike time over the years, from under 15 minutes per day to little or no biking, saw bigger weight gains.
And normal-weight women who bicycled more than four hours a week in 2005 had lower odds of gaining more than 5 percent of their baseline body weight, the researchers found.
Ride a Bike or Walk Briskly
The team concluded that bicycling, like brisk walking, should be encouraged for premenopausal women, particularly if they are coping with weight issues.
"We're advocating for a physical activity that is a routine part of the day," Dr. Lusk says. "You don't have to think about your heart rate, how many times a week that you do it, or all of that. We're just recommending that seven days a week you put brisk walking or biking into your day."
However, Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of the Women's Heart Program at New York University Medical Center in New York City, issued a cautionary note regarding how women might interpret this new information.
"I think downplaying the benefit of slow walking is a bad message to send out to people who may have spent most of their life sitting in a chair, so to speak," Dr. Goldberg says. "Because slow walking is a good starting point if you don't already walk. It's cheaper than biking, and maybe easier, and basically you have to start somewhere."
Always consult your physician for more information.
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Everyday Ways to Activate Your Life
Moderately intense activities are good for your health. These are activities that make you feel some exertion but are mild enough that you can comfortably carry on a conversation while doing them. Examples include walking briskly from your parked car to the mall entrance and taking your dog for a quick jog after dinner.
This level of exercise will not help you train for a sport, but it can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and improve your overall fitness level. Moderate exercise can also help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, put you in a better mood and improve your balance, coordination and agility.
You have dozens of opportunities each day to increase your activity. Here are a handful of suggestions to get you started:
Always consult your physician for more information.
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