Diet or Exercise: Which Matters More For Healthy Weight As We Age?

New research investigates the question: What is more important to maintaining a healthy weight as we age: diet or exercise? The answer may surprise you.

We know that the pounds we shed readily in our 20s and 30s don’t seem to fall off so easily as the birthdays pile up. It’s a fact: as Americans get older, we tend to accumulate body fat. We try to reverse the numbers on the scale by changing our diet and vowing to devote more time to exercise. But rates of excess weight and obesity among aging Americans continue to rise. This prompted researchers at the University of South Carolina to wonder what mattered more to maintaining a healthy weight as we age: good nutrition or physical activity? They designed a study to find out.

The researchers recruited 4,999 American adults between the ages of 20 and 70+ and tracked their diet and exercise levels over time. Participant activity was tracked via accelerometer to insure accuracy of physical activity reporting. Researchers also recorded information about each participant, including weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and quality of diet. The study also controlled for factors like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and whether a participant smoked.

The results, published in the Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise journal, may not be what you’d predict. It turns out that as we mature, we are opting for healthier diets showcasing salads and lean proteins. The quality of the American diet is actually improving with age.

But those salads and chicken breasts are not reflected in slimmer waistlines.

Researchers found that maintaining a healthy level of physical activity was the more important component to fighting weight gain. Our increasing size as we age can’t be explained by the quality of our diet, but it is linked to an age-related decline in physical activity. The American Heart Association cites sedentary jobs, technology, and better mass transportation as factors in lower activity levels; today, 69 percent of adults are overweight or obese.

At Summit, we want to help you preserve your healthy weight and lifestyle by offering suggestions and opportunities to maintain the recommended 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every week. In upcoming blogs, you’ll be reading about apps and devices that keep you moving. We’ll also be showcasing some terrific Summit-sponsored community race events coming up in May that offer age-appropriate activities for every member of your family. We are here to support your goals and help you maintain the fit, active lifestyle that will keep you healthy for decades to come.

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