'Sit Less, Move More' May Be Key to Keeping Weight Off

Marlene Busko

May 26, 2021

Although the advice to "sit less, move more" to lose excess weight and keep it off has been criticized as being too simplistic, a new study suggests it may be important to keep lost weight from creeping back.

Individuals with former obesity who lost at least 20 pounds (9.1 kg) and kept it off for at least 3 years sat for 3 hours less each day and were more physically active than individuals with obesity.

Weight-loss maintainers were members of WW (formerly Weight Watchers) who initially weighed 224 pounds (101.6 kg), and those with obesity (controls) were recruited from the community and weighed a mean of 243 pounds (110.2 kg). 

On average, the successful weight-loss maintainers sat for 9.7 hours/day, whereas the individuals with obesity sat for 12.6 hours/day.  

The weight-loss maintainers spent 1 hour/day less playing video games or using a computer for nonwork-related activities, but the two groups spent a similar amount of time doing other sedentary activities.

This study "is the first to describe different types of sitting behaviors among weight-loss maintainers," lead author James Roake, a student at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, and colleagues write in the article published May 25 in Obesity.

Future interventions should consider targeting nonwork-related computer and video game usage, they suggest.

Need for More Activity as Well as Less Sitting

Individuals in the long-term weight-loss maintenance group expended more energy climbing stairs, walking, and doing light physical activity than those in the control group (1835 vs 785 calories/week).

The study "also showed that physical activity was associated with improved weight-loss maintenance," John M. Jakicic, PhD, who was not involved in this research, observed in a statement from the Obesity Society.

Importantly, it "does not imply that simply standing more rather than sitting will contribute to weight-loss maintenance, but [it] may suggest that less sitting that results in more movement is what is key to weight loss maintenance.

"Hence, sit less and move more," said Jakicic, director of the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Corresponding author Suzanne Phelan, PhD, professor of kinesiology and director of the STRIDE Center for Obesity Research, California Polytechnic State University, calls for more research.

"The findings hopefully will prompt future weight maintenance intervention research" she said in the statement. 

"Future research should include objective measures of sedentary behavior and activity."

Sitting Time Linked to Obesity, Diabetes, CVD

Time spent sitting has "increased dramatically" in the United States in the past decade and is associated with increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and all-cause mortality, Roake and colleagues write.

Data from the National Weight Control Registry showed that individuals who had maintained long-term weight loss spent fewer than 10 hours a week watching television, and they also owned fewer television sets than individuals with obesity. 

To investigate types, context, and amount of sedentary behavior in individuals who maintained weight loss, researchers identified 4953 people who were part of the WW Success Registry and had lost at least 20 pounds — which is a clinically significant 10% weight loss for someone with an initial weight of 200 pounds — and kept the weight off for at least a year.

They also recruited 650 control individuals with obesity.

Those in the weight loss-maintainer group, compared with controls, were older (54 vs 47 years), more were female (92% vs 79%), and they had a lower current mean body mass index (27.7 vs 39.2 kg/m2).

Participants completed the Multicontext Sitting Time Questionnaire, the Paffenbarger Physical Activity Questionnaire, and a questionnaire about home sitting environment.

Compared to individuals with obesity, the weight-loss maintainers sat for 3 hours/day less during the week (10.9 vs 13.9 hours/day) and weekends (9.7 vs 12.6 hours/day), and spent 1 hour/day less playing video games or using a computer for nonwork-related activity during the week (1.4 vs 2.3 hours/day) or weekend (1.5 vs 2.5 hours/day).

Both groups had a similar number of electronic devices/television sets at home (15.8 versus 14.8).

The study was supported by a grant from WW International. Phelan has reported receiving a grant from WW International, and another author has reported being an employee and shareholder of the company.

Obesity. Published online May 25, 2021. Full text

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