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March 20, 2008

Move more, eat less to lose weight, Jakicic says

Weight race team members have lost nearly 2.5 tons of excess weight as the 12-week competition passes its midpoint. After six weeks, more than 1,300 participants have shed a total of 4,620 pounds.

The weight race challenge has prompted employees across the University to pay attention to diet and exercise in an effort to either maintain or lose weight and get healthier.

For some, progress has been slower than they’d hoped. Finding time and motivation to exercise during Pittsburgh’s cold winter months present challenges that have prevented some from bidding a fast farewell to their post-holiday pounds.

John Jakicic, chair of the Department of Health and Physical Activity and director of Pitt’s Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, said it’s important to recognize that activity levels in winter are likely to be lower and to account for that by cutting caloric intake as well.

At the same time, cut the excuses, too.

“I think part of it is our perception that we can’t be out there doing these things as opposed to being prepared,” Jakicic said, noting that we’ve all seen someone in running gear trotting down the sidewalk regardless of rain, snow or cold. “It’s just their lifestyle,” he said. “Don’t look for an excuse and you won’t have one.”

Jakicic said people often don’t seek opportunities for indoor activities. Treadmills and exercise videos are options, although they can become boring, he admitted. Kids’ video games such as Dance Dance Revolution can be an entertaining way to get moving. In the game, players stand on a dance pad and move their feet to the music, following on-screen instructions. “If your kids have it, play it with them,” Jakicic said. Even those with two left feet can benefit. “As long as you keep your feet moving, you’re in good shape,” he said, adding that the game is a good way to get the whole family up off the couch and burning calories together.

“We’ve engineered activity out of our lives rather into them,” Jakicic said. Opportunities to be more active are out there, they just need to be exploited. “It doesn’t have to be this 30-60 minutes of continuous exercise, in a certain kind of clothing, that makes you sweat,” he said. Every little bit helps.

“Go in with the attitude of ‘every step counts. How can I get a few more steps in every day?’” he said.

Taking the stairs at work rather than the elevator is a start. Getting off the bus a stop or two early or walking to campus appointments rather than driving also adds steps.

Getting up and moving around the office for a few minutes every hour can help as well. “But don’t make it so that you’re moving to the refrigerator,” he cautioned.

There are plenty of opportunities around the campus for exercise. “You don’t have to wear special clothes to exercise. Put on a comfortable pair of shoes and get moving around outside in Oakland,” Jakicic said.

After work, shopping can provide the opportunity to add some activity regardless of the weather. Make a rule for yourself that you’ll walk down a certain number of aisles at the grocery store regardless of how much shopping you need to do, he said. Making sure to avoid the potato chip aisle can improve the success of this tactic.

At the mall, vow to walk a lap or two before starting to shop. “The malls are big and most of them are three-quarters of a mile to at least a mile if you do the whole perimeter of the floor,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

The idea is to get into a more active routine, regardless of whether formal exercise is involved. “If there’s a way you can figure out just how to add enough extra movement around, that’s going to start to make a difference,” Jakicic said.

“I think the body likes moving around; you just have to remind it that it likes moving around.”

Adding exercise to the daily routine doesn’t give a person license to eat anything he or she wants, Jakicic cautioned. That attitude can derail weight loss in a flash. “One mile of walking is easily wiped out with a third of a candy bar,” he said.

Increasing activity is good, but it’s no ticket to speedy weight loss. One would need to walk an additional 35 miles a week to lose one pound a week, Jakicic said. “Exercise alone will move the scale, but it will move it really slow and it’s going to take time. That’s why you really need to be conscious of how many calories you’re actually consuming.”

By limiting caloric intake, one can lose 20 pounds in 12-20 weeks compared with losing 2-5 pounds in the same time period through exercise alone. “You can triple or more your weight loss with watching your diet,” he said.

Simple tricks to cut down on consumption include using a smaller dinner plate or consciously cutting portion sizes by about 25 percent. Ordering a 6-inch sub for lunch rather than a 12-incher also can make a difference. Better yet, share the smaller sub with a friend or save half for another meal, Jakicic said.

“Let’s not make this more complicated than it is,” Jakicic said. “It’s a very simple thing: If people simply get up and move an extra 30-60 minutes a day and simply find a way to eat about 20 percent less than they typically eat, they’re going to see great results.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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