Change: You’re Moving Less
In general, women’s activity levels peak in their early teens. In a recent report, 60 percent of high school girls said that they engaged in regular physical activity, while only 34 percent of women between 18 and 44 said the same. The percentages continued to decline among older age groups. Only about a third of middle-aged women get the 30 minutes a day of moderately intense exercise recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. And there’s a direct line between activity level and weight: A recent study followed more than 9,000 men and women for 10 years and found that the least active people were seven times as likely as the most active to gain weight.
Deliberate exercise isn’t the only kind of activity that declines over the years. “People become more sedentary in ways they’re not even aware of,” says James Levine, Ph.D., an endocrinologist who researches activity levels at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “They buy a car and no longer need to walk to the bus. Their kids get older, so they’re not pushing a stroller anymore. Their knees ache, so they minimize trips up and down the stairs. They might even fidget less.” This drop-off can add up to a couple of hundred calories or more not burned each day. In one study, Levine found that obese people tend to sit for 150 more minutes a day than their naturally lean counterparts.
Pregnancy can also be a factor, especially if a woman puts on more pounds than recommended with each child. One recent study found that women who gained excess weight while pregnant were nearly three times as likely to be overweight six months after the baby was born. Marriage and a growing family can also cut down on a woman’s ability to exercise. Women with a husband and children report finding less time to get to the gym or take that daily walk.
Become More Active
To keep your weight down, you’ll probably need to put in more than the government’s recommended 30 minutes of brisk walking, five times a week. “We’ve seen that there is a much better effect if it’s 50 to 60 minutes, five days a week,“ says Jakicic. Sounds daunting, but you can get the same benefit (and still hold down a job) by breaking that up into 10-minute bouts scattered throughout the day. Take a quick walk during a coffee break, or bypass the elevator and spring up the stairs. Do jumping jacks while waiting for your coffee to brew. When you’re in a meeting, walk as you talk. Pace when you’re on the phone.
Push Yourself at the Gym
Make sure that you’re not on autopilot when you’re doing a workout. Researchers at Yale University who followed a group of 5,000 middle-aged men and women over 7½ years found that the ones who kept raising their fitness levels were most likely to lose weight or manage their weight.
Do Downward Dog
A 2005 study in the journal Alternative Therapies compared middle-aged men and women who regularly practiced yoga with those who rarely did and found that the yogis were less likely to gain weight in the four years covered by the study. Those who started out overweight lost five pounds, while the non-yogis gained 13½ pounds. “Body awareness is a big thing in yoga,” says Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., the author of the study and an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle. “Imagine how that also translates into eating. When you’re aware that you’re no longer hungry, you stop eating.”