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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Daily exercise over a period of 20 years helps to significantly reduce weight gain in middle age, but even that is not enough to keep away middle age bulges entirely, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.
The 20-year study found that people who maintained a high level of activity were less likely to gain weight than others, and women had better success than men.
But even the most active participants still succumbed to the effects of a slower metabolism that accompanies middle age.
"It's difficult to avoid gaining weight as you age. Our metabolic rate goes down. We develop conditions or have lifestyles that make it harder to maintain a high level of activity," Dr. Arlene Hankinson of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"The study reinforces that everyone needs to make regular activity part of their lifestyles throughout their lives," she said in a statement. "Not many people actually do that."
Hankinson and colleagues studied physical activity levels in 1,800 women and nearly 1,700 men taking part in a heart risk study for young adults.
"We wanted to see if people's activity levels during their youth were enough to help them keep weight off in middle age, or if they needed to up the ante," Hankinson said.
The team found that people in the highest activity level -- defined as 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week -- benefited the most from their years of hard workouts.
Women who had the highest levels of activity gained an average of 13 pounds less than others in the study.
Men in the high activity group gained about 6 pounds less than their low-activity peers, possibly because men tend to overestimate their activity levels, the researchers said.
High activity in the study included recreational exercise such as basketball, running, brisk walking or an exercise class or daily activities such as housework or construction work. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)