Battle of the bulge turns into full-scale fight

Published8/3/2008 11:11 PM

Poor Kirstie Alley. Word is that she's beginning to put back some of those 75 pounds she lost over three years.

I feel her gain.


After age 50, most of us take on this never-losing battle against weight gain. It's all there in the numbers. Statistics show 90 percent of people who lose more than 10 percent of their body weight will gain it all back within five years. The call of chocolate-chip cookies and putting your feet up instead of down on the treadmill is just too great.

Most of us are willing to make short-term changes, but can't maintain those changes over time. Bad habits and our aging bodies both help ratchet up those weight loss hurdles. Let's blame it on a combination of slowing metabolism and muscle mass. After age 30, our basal metabolic rate goes down 1 percent a year. So does our muscle mass ... from 45 percent of our total body weight when we're younger to about 27 percent by the time we reach age 70. That drop in hormones accompanying menopause also contributes to a decrease in muscle mass, triggering even more weight gain for women.

As we age, our body fat can double even if our weight remains the same. And if that's not bad enough, it turns out that the heavier we are, the harder we have to work to keep those pounds off. A study published last week in The Archives of Internal Medicine showed it takes more than an hour of exercise, five days a week, for obese people to lose significant weight and keep it off - far more than the conventionally accepted 30-minute workout on most days of the week.

Involving 201 obese women between 1999 and 2003, the study had participants on 1,200 and 1,500 calorie-diets and assigned them to one of four groups based on physical activity. Women who lost 10 percent of their weight and maintained that weight loss (just 24.6 percent), reported performing more physical activity - 275 minutes per week, as opposed to the normally recommended 150-minutes-per-week.

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Writing down what you've eaten helps keep off those pounds. A study from Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research showed that keeping a food diary is an ally in that battle of the bulge. The study, to be published in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed that folks who wrote down what they had eaten during the day lost at least 9 pounds, or twice as much as those who kept no records.

Living in an older neighborhood is another weapon against weight gain. A study to be published in September's American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that neighborhoods built before 1950 tended to offer greater overall walkability because they were more likely to be designed with the pedestrian in mind, while newer neighborhoods often were designed to accommodate car travel.

The study linked body mass index of nearly a half million Salt Lake County residents to 2000 census data and found that residents were at less risk of being obese or overweight if they lived in walkable neighborhoods - those that are more densely populated, designed to be more friendly to pedestrians and have a range of destinations for pedestrians.

But take heart. The push to get us moving may someday be a moot point. Last year Ronald M. Evans, a scientist at the Salk Institute, told colleagues at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's 2007 conference that work is under way to trick our metabolisms into burning fat by switching on PPAR-d, the master fat-burning regulator in our bodies.


Today a few super mice are burning more calories, with twice the physical endurance of normal mice, thanks to a little genetic metabolic engineering.

Someday we might be able to take a one-a-day exercise pill, based on the super-mouse study, that will improve the quality of our muscles, increase burning of energy and reduce excess fat in our body. Just by popping a pill, we'll have less fatty tissue, smaller amounts of fat circulating in our blood, lower blood glucose levels and less resistance to insulin, which will lower our risk of heart disease and diabetes.

In the meantime, Kirstie Alley and we need to keep moving, walking, running ... away from those pounds and toward better health ... the old-fashioned way.

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