Physical Activity and Weight Control: NIDDK
Article title: Physical Activity and Weight Control: NIDDK
Conditions: overweight, obesity, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, back pain, osteoporosis
- How Can Physical Activity Help Control My Weight?
- What Are the Health Benefits of Physical Activity?
- How Much Should I Exercise?
- Moderate-Intensity Activity
- Aerobic Activity
- Stretching and Muscle Strengthening Exercises
- Tips to a Safe and Successful Physical Activity Program
- Additional Resources
Research consistently shows that regular physical activity, combined with healthy eating habits, is the most efficient and healthful way to control your weight. Whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain it, you should understand the important role of physical activity and include it in your lifestyle.
Balancing the calories you use through physical activity with the calories you eat will help you achieve your desired weight. When you eat more calories than you need to perform your day's activities, your body stores the extra calories and you gain weight (a).
When you eat fewer calories than you use, your body uses the stored calories and you lose weight (b). When you eat the same amount of calories as your body uses, your weight stays the same (c).
Any type of physical activity you choose to do--strenuous activities such as running or aerobic dancing or moderate-intensity activities such as walking or household work--will increase the number of calories your body uses. The key to successful weight control and improved overall health is making physical activity a part of your daily routine.
What Are the Health Benefits of Physical Activity?In addition to helping to control your weight, research shows that regular physical activity can reduce your risk for several diseases and conditions and improve your overall quality of life. Regular physical activity can help protect you from the following health problems.
- Heart Disease and Stroke. Daily physical activity can help prevent
heart disease and stroke by strengthening your heart muscle, lowering
your blood pressure, raising your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels
(good cholesterol) and lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels
(bad cholesterol), improving blood flow, and increasing your heart's
- High Blood Pressure. Regular physical activity can reduce blood
pressure in those with high blood pressure levels. Physical activity
also reduces body fatness, which is associated with high blood pressure.
- Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes. By reducing body fatness, physical
activity can help to prevent and control this type of diabetes.
- Obesity. Physical activity helps to reduce body fat by building or
preserving muscle mass and improving the body's ability to use calories.
When physical activity is combined with proper nutrition, it can help
control weight and prevent obesity, a major risk factor for many
- Back Pain. By increasing muscle strength and endurance and improving
flexibility and posture, regular exercise helps to prevent back pain.
- Osteoporosis. Regular weight-bearing exercise promotes bone formation and may prevent many forms of bone loss associated with aging.
Keep these health benefits in mind when deciding whether or not to exercise. And remember, any amount of physical activity you do is better than none at all.
How Much Should I Exercise?For the greatest overall health benefits, experts recommend that you do 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times a week and some type of muscle strengthening activity and stretching at least twice a week. However, if you are unable to do this level of activity, you can gain substantial health benefits by accumulating 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity a day, at least five times a week.
If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start with less strenuous activities such as walking or swimming at a comfortable pace. Beginning at a slow pace will allow you to become physically fit without straining your body. Once you are in better shape, you can gradually do more strenuous activity.
Moderate-intensity activities include some of
the things you may already be doing during a day or week, such as
gardening and housework. These activities can be done in short spurts--10
minutes here, 8 minutes there. Alone, each action does not have a great
effect on your health, but regularly accumulating 30 minutes of activity
over the course of the day can result in substantial health benefits.
To become more active throughout your day, take advantage of any chance to get up and move around. Here are some examples:
- Take a short walk around the block
- Rake leaves
- Play actively with the kids
- Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator
- Mow the lawn
- Take an activity break--get up and stretch or walk around
- Park your car a little farther away from your destination and walk the extra distance
Aerobic ActivityAerobic activity is an important addition to moderate-intensity exercise. Aerobic exercise is any extended activity that makes you breathe hard while using the large muscle groups at a regular, even pace. Aerobic activities help make your heart stronger and more efficient. They also use more calories than other activities. Some examples of aerobic activities include:
- Brisk walking
- Aerobic dancing
- Racket sports
- Ice or roller skating
- Cross-country or downhill skiing
- Using aerobic equipment (i.e., treadmill, stationary bike)
|Age||Target Heart Rate Zone 50-75%||Average Maximum Heart Rate 100%|
|20-30 years||98-146 beats per min.||195|
|31-40 years||93-138 beats per min.||185|
|41-50 years||88-131 beats per min.||175|
|51-60 years||83-123 beats per min.||165|
|61+ years||78-116 beats per min||155|
To see if you are exercising within your target heart rate zone, count the number of pulse beats at your wrist or neck for 15 seconds, then multiply by four to get the beats per minute. Your heart should be beating within your target heart rate zone. If your heart is beating faster than your target heart rate, you are exercising too hard and should slow down. If your heart is beating slower than your target heart rate, you should exercise a little harder.
When you begin your exercise program, aim for the lower part of your target zone (50 percent). As you get into better shape, slowly build up to the higher part of your target zone (75 percent). If exercising within your target zone seems too hard, exercise at a pace that is comfortable for you. You will find that, with time, you will feel more comfortable exercising and can slowly increase to your target zone.
Stretching and Muscle Strengthening ExercisesStretching and strengthening exercises such as weight training should also be a part of your physical activity program. In addition to using calories, these exercises strengthen your muscles and bones and help prevent injury.
Tips to a Safe and Successful Physical Activity ProgramMake sure you are in good health. Answer the following questions* before you begin exercising.
- Has a doctor ever said you have heart problems?
- Do you frequently suffer from chest pains?
- Do you often feel faint or have dizzy spells?
- Has a doctor ever said you have high blood pressure?
- Has a doctor ever told you that you have a bone or joint problem,
such as arthritis, that has been or could be aggravated by exercise?
- Are you over the age of 65 and not accustomed to exercise?
- Are you taking prescription medications, such as those for high
- Is there a good medical reason, not mentioned here, why you should not exercise?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you should see your doctor before you begin an exercise program.
- Follow a gradual approach to exercise to get the most benefits with
the fewest risks. If you have not been exercising, start at a slow pace
and as you become more fit, gradually increase the amount of time and
the pace of your activity.
- Choose activities that you enjoy and that fit your personality. For
example, if you like team sports or group activities, choose things such
as soccer or aerobics. If you prefer individual activities, choose
things such as swimming or walking. Also, plan your activities for a
time of day that suits your personality. If you are a morning person,
exercise before you begin the rest of your day's activities. If you have
more energy in the evening, plan activities that can be done at the end
of the day. You will be more likely to stick to a physical activity
program if it is convenient and enjoyable.
- Exercise regularly. To gain the most health benefits it is important
to exercise as regularly as possible. Make sure you choose activities
that will fit into your schedule.
- Exercise at a comfortable pace. For example, while jogging or
walking briskly you should be able to hold a conversation. If you do not
feel normal again within 10 minutes following exercise, you are
exercising too hard. Also, if you have difficulty breathing or feel
faint or weak during or after exercise, you are exercising too hard.
- Maximize your safety and comfort. Wear shoes that fit and clothes
that move with you, and always exercise in a safe location. Many people
walk in indoor shopping malls for exercise. Malls are climate controlled
and offer protection from bad weather.
- Vary your activities. Choose a variety of activities so you don't
get bored with any one thing.
- Encourage your family or friends to support you and join you in your
activity. If you have children, it is best to build healthy habits when
they are young. When parents are active, children are more likely to be
active and stay active for the rest of their lives.
- Challenge yourself. Set short-term as well as long-term goals and
celebrate every success, no matter how small.
Additional ResourcesThe following organizations have materials on physical activity and weight control available to the public.
President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Tel: (202) 272-3421
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Tel: (301) 251-1222
American College of Sports Medicine
P.O. Box 1440
Indianapolis, IN 46206-1440
Tel: (317) 637-9200
Weight-control Information Network
1 Win Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3665
Tel: (202) 828-1025 or 1-877-946-4627
Fax: (202) 828-1028
The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health, under the U.S. Public Health Service. Authorized by Congress (Public Law 103-43), WIN assembles and disseminates to health professionals and the public information on weight control, obesity, and nutritional disorders. WIN responds to requests for information; develops, reviews, and distributes publications; and develops communications strategies to encourage individuals to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Publications produced by the clearinghouse are reviewed carefully for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.
This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.
NIH Publication No. 96-4031
e-text posted: 20 February 1998
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