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Active Young Women Have Lighter Middle-Aged Bodies

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It benefits you to take care of your body as a young woman. One way to prevent “middle age spread” is for you to maintain your body weight throughout your life. It is definitely easier to “stay in shape” than to “get back in shape.” Intuitively, we know these principles are true. But, somehow we don’t always follow what we know to be best for us.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have given women more incentive to stay active. According to the research, women will gain significantly less weight by middle age by engaging in moderate to vigorous activity nearly every day of the week, starting as young women.

The study was conducted using 1,800 women and nearly 1,700 men as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults. The participants were 18 to 30 years at the beginning of the study and 38 to 50 at the end.

They are currently undergoing a 25-year follow-up examination at ages 43 to 53 years. This observational study used young black and white adults from Chicago, IL; Minneapolis, MN; Birmingham, AL; and Oakland, CA.

Women who were highly active over 20 years gained an average of 13 pounds less than those with low activity. Highly active men over the same period gained about 6 pounds less than men with low activity. High activity included recreational exercise such as basketball, running, brisk walking or an exercise class, or daily activities such as housework or construction work.

"Everyone benefits from high activity, but I was surprised by the gender differences," said lead author Arlene Hankinson, M.D., an instructor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It wasn't that activity didn't have an effect in men, but the effect was greater in women. Now women should be especially motivated."

“This paper is another example of how the CARDIA study has contributed to our knowledge about the importance of initiating healthy habits early in life and vigilantly maintaining them," said paper co-author Stephen Sidney, M.D., associate director for clinical research at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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