By Joan Aragone
San Mateo County Times
When I was a young woman, dieting meant being miserable.
I had friends who carried small scales with them so they could weigh their food; some ate only celery and carrots and
dreamed of ice cream. Once, at a restaurant, a friend demurely pulled from her purse a preweighed prepared meal. She
was taking no chances.
While starving our bodies, it never occurred to us to take a walk. Exercise was for jocks. As we refused to connect
smoking with lung damage, we did not connect moving with weight control.
How times have changed.
Now, medical experts agree that exercise and diet work in sync. The more we move, the faster the body can act to lose
the flab. Recent studies demonstrate the importance of that notion, especially as we age.
A small University of Pittsburgh study that aimed to examine how sedentary and overweight people could best improve
fitness concluded that exercise works best. Sixty-four people ages 60 to 75 were divided into three groups: dieters,
exercisers and exerciser/dieters. After four months, the exerciser/dieters were most fit and had burned off more fat,
followed by the exercisers. Judged least fit were the diet-only group.
Besides weight, the dieters also lost more lean muscle compared to the others. (And, I suspect, were the least content
during the study.)
“The results are important because older people tend to lose muscle mass as they age, and too much muscle
loss may interfere with activities of daily living,” the
In a larger study of more than 20,000 overweight male doctors over a 20-year period, researchers found that although excess weight increases the risk of heart failure in men, vigorous exercise reduces the same risk.
“Vigorous” was described as “to the point of breaking a sweat.” The study found that all the men in the study,
regardless of weight, had an 18 percent reduction in risk of heart failure if they exercised vigorously. Such exercise
would be beneficial even as seldom as one to three times a month, according to Dr. Donald Lindberg, director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, who commented on the study.
The findings were made after controlling for the effects of smoking, alcohol consumption and family history of heart
Medical literature has long recognized the increased risk of heart failure among obese and inactive men.
However, researchers were surprised to find increased risk occurred also among men who were merely overweight.
Middle-aged men of normal weight who exercise regularly were found to have the least risk of heart failure.
Despite such findings about the value of exercise, many Americans continue to consider exercise “boring” and a “waste of
“Why should I walk?” I heard a high-powered woman who was unhappy about her weight say during a radio interview. “I
could be reading a book or improving my mind.”
I didn’t realize that reading and exercise were mutually exclusive.
We also blame flab on that easy cop-out, age. Experts at the Mayo Clinic disagree with that one. The clinic’s current
newsletter calls inactivity and lifestyle choices the likely culprits for stiffness, soreness and excess body weight, not the
number of years our bodies have logged.
“Age can exact a toll on the body as muscles weaken and bones become more brittle,” the report said.
But a fitness program that includes aerobics, strength training, balance and flexibility can offset the changes and reduce
According to the newsletter, the federal recommendation for basic health benefits is at least 21/2 hours of moderateintensity
or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week. For greater benefits, adults should aim for five hours of
moderate activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity a week.
“Moderate” includes brisk walking, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, doubles tennis or biking on level ground. “Vigorous”
includes jogging, running, swimming laps, singles tennis and cycling faster than 10 miles an hour.
These are goals, not mandates. The basic message is “keep moving.”
The diet and fitness study appeared in a recent issue of “The Journal of Applied Physiology,” while the physician study
was published in a recent issue of “Circulation.”