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Healthy Living

Shedding Pounds for Life

Losing weight is the best way to combat and prevent risks to your health such as diabetes and heart disease. And the trick isn't shedding the pounds; it's keeping them off.

When health care providers ask you to lose weight, they really mean keeping it off over the long term--permanently, if possible. And that requires nothing less than permanently changing the way you lead your life.

Since 1993, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) has tracked thousands of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. Most have lost much more and kept it off for much longer. Many were obese as children; many have a family history of obesity. NWCR researchers are learning what helps them avoid regaining the weight.

The NWCR has revealed a number of behaviors shared by successful weight losers:

  • They eat breakfast
  • They eat small meals that are low in fat and high in carbohydrate
  • They get about an hour of exercise a day
  • They weigh themselves regularly
  • Many record what they eat
  • Most importantly, they approach weight control as a gradual process rather than a quick fix.

Slashing the Fat

Despite a growing popularity of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, one fact remains. People who keep weight off tend to eat a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates.

A 1998 NWCR report compared the diets of 438 NWCR volunteers with the diets of similarly aged Americans in general (as measured in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES III)

The researchers found that NWCR volunteers ate fewer calories than did NHANES III subjects. They also took in a significantly lower percentage of their calories as fat (about 24 percent versus about 34 percent) and a significantly higher percentages of their calories as carbohydrate and protein. Women in NWCR averaged 35 grams of fat per day, and men, 45 grams, versus 70 and 96 grams in NHANES III.

Another NWCR report looked at weight maintenance strategies of a larger group of 784 volunteers. These individuals also derived about 24 percent of their calories from fat. When asked what they did to limit food intake, 38.1 percent of the volunteers said they limited their percentage of calories from fat, and 30 percent said they counted fat grams.

Many people today tout low-carb diets. So the researchers looked at use of these diets among their successful weight losers. A summary of the NWCR results published in 2001 reported that fewer than 1 percent of NWCR subjects followed a low-carb diet. These people maintained their weight loss for a shorter time.

Burning Extra Calories

We all have a lot to get done every day. Still, there are very good reasons to find time to get your heart rate up. And you don't have to go to a gym or sweat for 30 to 60 uninterrupted minutes a day to enjoy the benefits of physical activity.

Numerous studies have shown that getting regular physical activity can:

  • delay or prevent type 2 diabetes
  • lower triglycerides and increase HDL (the good) cholesterol
  • improve glucose tolerance
  • help people lose weight and maintain weight loss
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve one's mood and self-esteem
Keep on truckin'

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the current recommendation of 60 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, but physical activity is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Getting some exercise is better than none at all. Research has shown that getting three 10-minute sessions of exercise a day can be just as effective in improving your heart health as one 30-minute session.

What's more, exercise doesn't have to be a high-intensity, sweat-pouring extravaganza. The goal is just to move more. And the best way to achieve that is to incorporate exercise into your everyday activities as possible.

The main reason people quit an exercise program is because they get bored with it. So instead of starting a program then trying to make it interesting, start something interesting and try to make it more physically active:

  • Instead of watching your kids swim, get in the pool with them

  • Join your kids for tag, basketball, jump rope, or a bike ride

  • If you like to garden, pulling weeds, digging holes for plants, and spreading mulch all count as physical activity

  • Instead of going to a moving whit friends, go dancing

  • If the grocery store is close, walk, don't drive. The walk there will give you a cardiovascular boost and the walk home while carrying your groceries will strengthen your upper body.

  • When shopping, park farther away from the stores you want to visit

  • Energetically vacuuming, dusting, mopping and scrubbing can all get your heart rate up.

  • Carrying laundry baskets up and down stairs can also add to your daily activity total

  • Put on some dance music and move to it while doing your household chores

The path to fitness begins with 10,000 steps

Walking is one of the easiest ways to incorporate physical activity into your life.

The 10,000 Step Challenge is a fitness trend encouraging people to take 10,000 steps every day, the equivalent of walking about 5 miles. People who take 10,000 steps a day burn between 2000 and 3,500 calories a week, which can help with both weight maintenance and disease prevention. The Cooper Institute of Aerobics Research has shown that 10,000 steps a day is the amount needed to lower body fat, improve blood pressure, and increase aerobic fitness.

There are many 10,000 Steps programs around the country, but you can do it on your own with just an inexpensive pedometer and some sensible shoes. STrop the pedometer on in the morning and start walking your way to better health. Start by measuring how many steps you normally take in a day. If it's not already near 10,000, try to gradually increase that number by about 1,000 to 2,000 steps a week until you reach the 10,000 step goal

Taking 10,000 steps a day may sound like a lot, but it's really not that hard to work in. All steps count, whether you're walking to the mailbox, through your office, down the grocery store aisle, or on a two-mile jaunt with a friend. Add to your total walking while you talk on the phone, taking stairs whenever possible, moving around during TV commercials, and pacing or doing laps while watching your children's sports games

What's important is that you're moving more. And by tracking your steps, you'll feel great about just how far you're getting on the path to fitness each day.

Putting it all together

People who have been successful at losing weight and keeping it off have followed a certain pattern. If you follow this pattern, you, too, could become a healthier, fitter person.

  • Eat low-fat meals high in carbohydrates - whole grain carbs stick with you longer.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to maintain your weight, or 60 minutes a day to burn off fat.
  • Eat breakfast daily - aiming for at least 3 grams of fiber
  • Keep track of what you eat - write down the time of day, what you ate, how you felt. This can help you discover patterns of behavior that you may want to change.
  • Weigh yourself regularly - at least once a week - to keep your weight control on track.

And remember - slow and steady wins the race.

For more information, visit the National Weight Control Registry at

Related Articles

Maintain or Improve Your Weight: Balance the food you eat with physical activity
Working Moderate-intensity Activities into Your Day
Adding Movement to your Day
Physical Activity and Weight Control
Why Walk?
Weight Loss for Life

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