CLEVELAND, Ohio — If you’re exercising to lose weight, don’t give up even if it’s apparent you’ll never be a size 2.
Exercise may prolong your life, even if it doesn’t lead to weight loss, suggests a new study.
Regular physical activity was linked with lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and other causes, a recently published study of Taiwanese adults suggests. Weight loss was not strongly associated with lower rates of death.
“It is probably more important and beneficial to be physically active and prevent weight gain, rather than focus on dieting to get to a low body weight but staying sedentary,” said Dr. Ian Neeland, cardiologist at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, and director of UH Center for Cardiovascular Prevention.
“Physical activity alone can improve the body fat profile, reduce the unhealthy fat and build muscle, even if the overall weight doesn’t change much,” Neeland said.
Neeland co-authored an editorial discussing this study on weight loss and longevity, though he was not involved in the study itself. Both the editorial and study were recently published in the International Journal of Obesity.
If this study is correct, it’s important to keep moving, especially through the coming winter. Inactivity is linked to weight gain, loss of muscle tone and decreased overall health.
Small changes, such as buying a treadmill or stationary bike, using the stairs instead of the elevator and buying warm layers and appropriate footwear for winter walks, can make a difference, Neeland said.
Obesity has been on the rise, nationally and in Ohio.
Between 35% and 40% of Ohioans are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 42% of Americans are obese, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from about 5% to 9% from 1999 to 2020, according to CDC data.
Obesity is associated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer — leading causes of preventable, premature death.
The study that looked at weight loss and longevity involved more than 100,000 Taiwanese adults. Over 12 years, their levels of physical activity, body weight and body composition were measured, and deaths from cardiovascular disease or cancer among the participants were recorded.
Benefits of weight loss vs. physical activity
Whether the participants in the study lost weight or not, being physically active was associated with lower rates of death. On the other hand, losing weight alone without being physically active did not have a substantial effect on longer lives.
The findings align with the fact that size and weight are not good indicators of health, said Kamna Jain, an integrative nutrition health coach based in Solon.
Many people exercise just to lose weight, but that’s not exercise’s sole purpose, Jain said.
“The reason that we want to keep exercising is, like that study said, it improves your cardiac health, brain health, digestive health — there are so many benefits to exercise,” Jain said.
How much physical activity does it take to reap health benefits? Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, Neeland said.
For weight loss, you’ll need to increase to around 225 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Aiming for at least 10,000 steps per day is also useful, he said.
Plan now to stay active as temperatures turn cold
With fall and winter around the corner, now is the time to make plans for staying active throughout the cold season. Exercise can improve mood and boost energy, in addition to promoting heart health.
“Taking care of your health should be a year-round priority,” said Erin Troy, wellness director and association personal training specialist at West Shore Family YMCA.
Getting outside also affords opportunities to see nature in its winter glory.
“While it is tempting to snuggle up indoors, you’d be missing out on those seasonal wintertime highlights, such as seeing an animal scurry across the snow-covered trail or the moonlight reflecting off the snow as you go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or hiking at night,” said Rachel Nagle, Cleveland Metroparks outdoor recreation manager.
Here are some ideas for staying active during fall and winter, from the Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Holden Forest and Gardens, Neeland, Summit Metro Parks, YMCA of Greater Cleveland and YWCA Greater Cleveland.
Check with parks or nature centers near you to find additional opportunities for fall and winter fun. Though the winter is a few months off, you may want to shop for gear now, so you’re ready to go when the snow falls.
There are lots of ways to exercise heart and lungs while staying indoors. Buy a home treadmill or exercise bike, or dust off the home exercise equipment you bought years ago and never used.
Check out exercise videos on YouTube, or find fitness DVDs at the library. Libraries often offer free tai chi, Jazzercize or yoga classes.
Join a gym or buy a fitness pass at your community center.
Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Group fitness classes
When it’s too cold to head outside for exercise, try a new group fitness classes, such as spin classes, Pilates, CrossFit, yoga and more. Find indoor workout classes here.
Is it more fun to ice skate indoors or outdoors? Try a little of both and then decide. Ice rinks are plentiful across Northern Ohio. There’s the Rink at Wade Oval, Mentor Civic Ice Arena, North Olmsted Recreation Center Ice Rink, Serpentini Arena Winterhurst in Lakewood and more.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding
If you’ve never strapped on skis, make this the winter that you try skiing. Ski resorts have trails for beginners and experts, and offer classes for various skill levels. Check out Alpine Valley Ski Resort near Chesterland, Boston Mills and Brandywine Ski Resort near Peninsula, and more.
Cleveland Metroparks has one-hour introductory classes and cross-country ski rental. Sign up for the Cleveland Metroparks’ Winter Impromptu Program Notification program, which sends out alerts for additional snowshoeing and cross-country skiing activities when weather conditions are favorable.
All trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park are open, when the conditions are right, to cross-country skiing. Bring your own skiis and get your heart pumping on flat or hilly terrain. Check for cross-country skiing opportunities at the Lake County Metroparks and Findley State Park in Lorain County, and other locations. Among the places to rent, conditions permitting, are the Lake Metroparks Chapin Forest and the Cleveland Metroparks’ Big Met Golf Course.
There are sled-riding hills in many locations in Cuyahoga and surrounding counties. Summit Metro Parks offers sledding among its winter activities.
Cuyahoga Valley’s Kendall Hills has family sledding, parking, a restroom and a fire pit, located at Pine Hollow Trailhead in Peninsula. Find more sledding locations here. And check out these sledding safety tips before heading out.
Snowshoes make it easier to trek through the snow and experience the wonder of a trail in winter.
It can be done about anywhere, or on an organized trail. For example, the Holden Arboretum in Lake County offers a beautiful snowshoeing experience, said Margaret Thresher, vice president of public relations and marketing for Holden Forests and Gardens. Start with Blueberry Pond Loop as a beginner trail, then move to the Corning Lake Loop or Layer Rhododendron Garden when you’re more confident. Snowshoe rental is available.
The Cleveland Metroparks offers a one-hour Try-It: Snowshoeing Scavenger Hunt or a two-hour Snowshoeing Adventure. Snowshoe rental is available at the Metroparks’ Big Met Golf Course, Hinckley Lake Boathouse and North Chagrin Nature Center.
Borrow snowshoes (for free) from Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s winter sports center, located at MD Garage, across the river from Boston Mill Visitor Center. Snowshoeing is also available at the Summit Metro Parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Chapin Forest Reservation in Lake County and other locations.