Successful Weight 'Losers': Here's How Much Less Time They Spend Sitting

People walking around an office.
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DENVER — People who want to keep weight off are often told to exercise more, but simply spending less time sitting down, and more time doing light activities, like taking a stroll around the office, may also help people maintain their weight loss, a new study suggests.

In the study, researchers analyzed information from 30 people who had lost at least 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) and kept it off for at least a year. The study also included 33 people whose weight was in the normal range, and 27 people who were overweight or obese.

All participants wore an activity-tracking device for one week. The small, rectangular device, called ActivPAL, sticks to the skin on the thigh, and is particularly good at distinguishing when people are standing versus sitting or lying down, said study researcher Danielle Ostendorf, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, who presented the findings here this week at the meeting of the American Public Health Association. (The device is known as an inclinometer, which measures the angle or tilt of an object.)

The study found that the people who had maintained their weight loss were more active than both the normal-weight and overweight participants. Overall, the weight-loss maintainers walked more than 12,000 steps per day, on average, compared with about 9,000 a day for normal-weight participants and about 7,000 a day for overweight participants. [The Best Way to Keep Weight Off]

The weight-loss maintainers also spent about 40 minutes per day doing some type of moderate to vigorous physical activity, compared with 17 minutes per day for normal-weight participants and 9 minutes per day for overweight participants. (Examples of moderate to vigorous activities include things running, brisk walking or biking.)

Notably, the weight-loss maintainers spent much less time sitting, and much more time engaged in light-intensity activities. (Examples of activities that qualify as "light intensity" include things like doing the dishes, walking slowly in a grocery store or making the bed.) Compared with overweight participants, weight-loss maintainers spent an extra 55 minutes a day engaged in light-intensity activity, and 58 fewer minutes sitting down.

"What may be important…is instead of doing one hour of sitting, they're replacing it with one hour of light activity," Ostendorf said.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who want to maintain weight loss spend about 300 minutes per week (60 minutes a day, five days a week) engaged in moderate intensity activity. But these guidelines don't include recommendations for increasing light activity or reducing sedentary behavior, Ostendorf said.

Ostendorf and colleagues hope their research will help guide future recommendations for maintaining weight loss, which might include targets for increasing light activity or reducing sedentary behavior.

In the past, light activity and sedentary behavior were difficult to quantify — people often have trouble remembering exactly how much time they spend sitting down or strolling around. But new technologies, such as accelerometers and inclinometers, are changing that, and allowing researchers to objectively quantify exactly how much time people spend doing each type of activity, Ostendorf said.

However, before physical activity recommendations could be changed, more research is needed to support the new findings, Ostendorf said. For example, in a future weight loss trial, participants will wear devices to quantify their physical activity, and Ostendorf will exam this data. These participants will come back after two years so the researchers can analyze their long-term progress in maintaining weight loss, Ostendorf said.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.