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Women who don't want to take on so much physical activity will need to cut back on calories to prevent more pounds. But Lee said they should do so in ways they can live with permanently, not with drastic diets that are doomed to fail.
Still, Lee emphasized that the benefits of exercise extend beyond what you see in the mirror, helping keep the heart healthy and protecting against chronic disease even if you don't get enough activity to lose weight.
Katzin, a size 14, said she does an hour workout twice a week -- including weights, an elliptical machine and bike. "I know I should go more, but that's all I can swing," she said.
She also has switched to diet soda and eating fewer treats, but that hasn't curbed her weight. Katzin was not involved in the study.
The researchers analyzed data on women who took part in a long-running federal study. Participants were 54 on average at the start and periodically reported how much they exercised and weighed. They also reported eating habits at the start, but not throughout, a limitation the authors acknowledged. Lee said the women's eating habits were thought to be typical of American women who aren't dieting.
Dr. Howard Eisenson, who heads Duke University's diet and fitness center, said it's likely some women underestimated what they ate and overestimated how much they exercised, which could have skewed the results.
Still, Eisenson said he doesn't encourage anybody to try to lose weight by exercise alone. To combat age-related weight gain, "you're fighting in many cases a losing battle" if you don't also cut calories, he said.
That doesn't mean you have to starve yourself, but it does mean watching what you eat and avoiding frequent indulgences. People often don't realize how quickly a bag of chips, an extra piece of cheese, a few glasses of wine or a candy bar add up.
"You can eat a candy bar in two minutes. Most are at least 200 calories," and to burn that off requires walking for about an hour, Lee said. Knowing that equation can help people make wise decisions about activity and food choices, she said.
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