Yes, You Can Prevent Weight Gain

by Melaina Juntti

Although 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week can help strengthen bones and lower disease risk, it still may not be enough to thwart weight gain, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers determined that middle-aged women need at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day to stave off excess pounds. If this target sounds daunting, relax: With a little confidence and creativity, the daily 60 won’t be so hard to hit.

Start with 15. Just launching an exercise routine? “Don’t focus on the full 60 minutes right now,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “First get in the habit of doing something active for 15 minutes three or four times per week to establish a routine. Then work up duration and frequency—it’s about the little successes.”

Remember, it’s cumulative. Total time spent moving each day is more important than workout intensity, McCall explains. Sure, training for a half-marathon or weeklong backpacking trip demands more vigorous workouts, but maintaining a healthy weight requires 60 minutes total.

Get creative with cardio. Sweat sessions don’t have to happen at the gym—plus, when you do the same routine over and over, your body adapts and expends less energy, McCall says. Now’s the time to hike, bike, canoe, rollerblade, kayak, and jump on trampolines—even raking leaves and sanding your deck count. Come winter, try racquetball, fencing, or a Zumba dance class.

Pick up the pounds. “People think lifting weights will add body weight, but it doesn’t,” McCall says. “Especially for women 40 and older, strength training is crucial for preventing osteoporosis and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), and great for burning calories.” When choosing weights, don’t go so heavy that you can’t hold your form, but pick up enough poundage that you tire after eight to 15 repetitions. Heavy weights and low reps build muscle efficiency rather than bulk you up.