Physical Activity Exercise Can Help Control Weight
Physical Activity Exercise Can Help Control Weight
Harvard University
Obesity Prevention Source



A shorter URL for the above link:




Obesity results from energy imbalance: too many calories in, too few calories burned.
A number of factors influence how many calories (or how much “energy”) people burn
each day, among them, age, body size, and genes. But the most variable factor-and the
most easily modified-is the amount of activity people get each day.


Keeping active can help people stay at a healthy weight or lose weight. It can also lower
the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain
cancers, as well as reduce stress and boost mood. Inactive (sedentary) lifestyles do just
the opposite.


Despite all the health benefits of physical activity, people worldwide are doing less of it-at work,
at home, and as they travel from place to place. Globally, about one in three people gets little,
if any, physical activity. (1) Physical activity levels are declining not only in wealthy countries,
such as the U.S., but also in low- and middle-income countries, such as China. And it’s clear
that this decline in physical activity is a key contributor to the global obesity epidemic, and in
turn, to rising rates of chronic disease everywhere.


The World Health Organization, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and other
authorities recommend that for good health, adults should get the equivalent of two and a
half hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week. (24) Children should get
even more, at least one hour a day. There’s been some debate among researchers, however,
about just how much activity people need each day to maintain a healthy weight or to help with
weight loss, and the most recent studies suggest that a total of two and a half hours a week is
simply not enough.


Definitions and Measurement


Worldwide, people are less active today than they were decades ago. While studies find that sports and leisure
activity levels have remained stable or increased slightly, (710) these leisure activities represent only a small
part of daily physical activity. Physical activity associated with work, home, and transportation has declined due
to economic growth, technological advancements, and social changes. (7,8,10,11) Some examples from
different countries:

  • United States. In 1950, 30 percent of Americans worked in high-activity occupations; by 2000, that
    proportion had dropped to only 22 percent. Conversely, the percentage of people working in low-activity
    occupations rose from about 23 percent to 41 percent. (8) Driving cars increased from 67 percent of all
    trips to work in 1960 to 88 percent in 2000, while walking and taking public transit to work decreased. (8)
    About 40 percent of U.S. schoolchildren walked or rode their bikes to school in 1969; by 2001, only 13
    percent did so. (12)

  • United Kingdom. Over the past few decades, it’s become more common for U.K. households to own
    second cars and labor-saving appliances. (13) Work outside the home has also become less active.
    In 2004, about 39 percent of men worked in active jobs, down from 43 percent in 1991-1992. (11)

How Much Activity Do People Need to Prevent Weight Gain?


How Much Activity Do People Need to Lose Weight?


How Does Activity Prevent Obesity?

The Bottom Line: For Weight Control, Aim for an Hour of Activity a Day



1. World Health Organization. Notes for the media: New physical activity guidance can help reduce risk of breast, colon cancers;
2011. Accessed January 28, 2012.

2. World Health Organization. Global recommendations on physical activity for health; 2011.
Accessed January 30, 2012.

3. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans;
2008. Accessed January 30, 2012.

4. Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults
from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007; 116:1081-93.

5. Caspersen CJ, Powell KE, Christenson GM. Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research.
Public Health Rep. 1985; 100:126-31.

6. Troiano RP, Berrigan D, Dodd KW, Masse LC, Tilert T, McDowell M. Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008; 40:181-8.

7. Juneau CE, Potvin L. Trends in leisure-, transport-, and work-related physical activity in Canada 1994-2005. Prev Med. 2010; 51:384-6.

8. Brownson RC, Boehmer TK, Luke DA. Declining rates of physical activity in the United States: what are the contributors?
Annu Rev Public Health. 2005; 26:421-43.

9. Petersen CB, Thygesen LC, Helge JW, Gronbaek M, Tolstrup JS.
Time trends in physical activity in leisure time in the Danish population from 1987 to 2005. Scand J Public Health. 2010; 38:121-8.

10. Ng SW, Norton EC, Popkin BM. Why have physical activity levels declined among Chinese adults? Findings from the 1991-2006
China Health and Nutrition Surveys. Soc Sci Med. 2009; 68:1305-14.

11. Stamatakis E, Ekelund U, Wareham NJ. Temporal trends in physical activity in England: the Health Survey for England 1991 to 2004.
Prev Med. 2007; 45:416-23.

12. McDonald NC. Active transportation to school: trends among U.S. schoolchildren, 1969-2001. Am J Prev Med. 2007; 32:509-16.

13. Wareham NJ, van Sluijs EM, Ekelund U. Physical activity and obesity prevention: a review of the current evidence.
Proc Nutr Soc. 2005; 64:229-47.

14. Kjellstrom T, Hakansta C, Hogstedt C. Globalisation and public health-overview and a Swedish perspective.
Scand J Public Health Suppl. 2007; 70:2-68.

15. Mekary RA, Feskanich D, Malspeis S, Hu FB, Willett WC, Field AE.
Physical activity patterns and prevention of weight gain in premenopausal women.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2009; 33:1039-47.

16. Seo DC, Li K. Leisure-time physical activity dose-response effects on obesity among US adults: results from the 1999-2006
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2010; 64:426-31.

17. Lewis CE, Smith DE, Wallace DD, Williams OD, Bild DE, Jacobs DR, Jr.
Seven-year trends in body weight and associations with lifestyle and behavioral characteristics in black and white young adults: the
CARDIA study. Am J Public Health. 1997; 87:635-42.

18. Lee IM, Djousse L, Sesso HD, Wang L, Buring JE. Physical activity and weight gain prevention. JAMA. 2010; 303:1173-9.

19. Mekary RA, Feskanich D, Hu FB, Willett WC, Field AE.
Physical activity in relation to long-term weight maintenance after intentional weight loss in premenopausal women.
Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010; 18:167-74.

20. Lusk AC, Mekary RA, Feskanich D, Willett WC. Bicycle riding, walking, and weight gain in premenopausal women.
Arch Intern Med. 2010; 170:1050-6.

21. Slentz CA, Aiken LB, Houmard JA, et al.
Inactivity, exercise, and visceral fat. STRRIDE: a randomized, controlled study of exercise intensity and amount.
J Appl Physiol. 2005; 99:1613-8.

22. McTiernan A, Sorensen B, Irwin ML, et al. Exercise effect on weight and body fat in men and women.
Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007; 15:1496-512.

23. Friedenreich CM, Woolcott CG, McTiernan A, et al.
Adiposity changes after a 1-year aerobic exercise intervention among postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2010.

24. Hu FB. Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviors, and Obesity. In: Hu FB, ed. Obesity Epidemiology.
New York: Oxford University Press; 2008:301-19.

25. Sallis JF, Glanz K. Physical activity and food environments: solutions to the obesity epidemicMilbank Q. 2009; 87:123-54.

26. Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity
in the United States. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2009; 58:1-26.

27. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Leadership for Healthy Communities. Action Strategies Toolkit.
Accessed January 30, 2012.




David Dillard

Temple University

(215) 204 – 4584



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