Can Exercise Really Prevent Obesity?

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Rates of obesity continue to skyrocket in the United States. But health experts say regular exercise can turn these numbers around dramatically and help Americans achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

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From 2007 to 2009, the number of U.S. states in which 30% or more of the residents qualified as obese tripled, according to the CDC. Just seven years earlier – in 2000 – not a single state had an obesity prevalence of 30% or more.

The problem of obesity is serious enough to merit the attention of the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama has kicked off a campaign called "Let's Move" that aims to turn around the trend of childhood obesity by encouraging kids to get more activity and to eat better.

The Department of Health and Human Services also has made increased activity among all groups a focus of its anti-obesity efforts as part of the "Communities Putting Prevention to Work" program.

But does exercise really help reduce obesity?

How Exercise Fights Obesity

A person who exercises has a much better chance of maintaining a healthy weight.

Exercise helps burn calories, and the key to losing weight is to burn more calories than the body takes in through eating. This concept, known as a "calorie deficit," is the cornerstone of weight management.

Of course, exercise will not yield the hoped-for weight loss unless the exerciser also eats the right foods, stops eating unhealthy foods and cuts back on portion sizes.

How Much Exercise is Necessary?

How much exercise is needed for effective weight loss? The CDC recommends exercisers gradually try to achieve the following exercise target:
  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week.
However, the CDC also cautions that some people may need more exercise than this to maintain a healthy weight.

The CDC also offers a list of activities as examples of "moderate-intensity" aerobic activity, including brisk walking, casual biking and yard work. Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity include running, swimming laps and most competitive sports.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health offers the following definitions:
  • Moderately active: a lifestyle that includes activity equal to walking 1.5 to three miles per day at a pace of three to four miles per hour.
  • Active: a lifestyle that includes activity equal to walking walking more than three miles per day at a pace of three to four miles per hour.

Recent research also indicates that the time of day that a person exercises can help speed the weight loss process.

Obesity is a continuing and growing problem in the United States. But regular exercise and a healthy diet can help obese people lose weight and keep it off.

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