Home exercise equipment increased weight-loss success in study

October 25, 1999

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Overweight women using home exercise equipment as part of their exercise regimen lost twice as much weight as their peers who did not have that option but were instructed to do the same type and amount of exercise, according to a recent study by Brown University researchers.

Women with home exercise equipment lost eight more pounds on average than women without the equipment--16.3 pounds compared to 8.1 pounds--over the course of the 18-month study. Participants with home exercise equipment also maintained a higher level of exercise throughout the final months of the study.

Although all 115 participants, aged 25 to 45, were instructed to do the same amount of brisk walking for exercise each day, only about one-third had the option of using treadmills installed in their homes. The study was published in the Oct. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"The equipment made the activity easier to adopt because it allowed people more flexibility in their exercise regimen," said John M. Jakicic, lead author of the study and assistant research professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Brown University School of Medicine.

For example, people may be more inclined to use the treadmill when it is raining instead of skipping a walk because they do not want to go outside. Or, Jakicic said, someone who must exercise at night may be more inclined to use the treadmill instead of walking on dark streets.

The treadmills also acted as a visual reminder of exercise for those in the study group who had the equipment.

However, the mere presence of home exercise equipment is not enough to make people lose weight, Jakicic said. It was useful in the study because participants had dedicated themselves to building exercise into their lives and found the variety helpful.

"The message is not that all you have to do is buy this equipment and you'll lose weight," said Jakicic. "But it is useful when helping to build an activity into a lifestyle."

Although laboratory-based studies have suggested that providing access to exercise equipment may improve exercise participation, this is the first known randomized trial to have examined the effectiveness of the equipment when placed in the home.

Study participants were broken into three groups. All were required to attend group treatment meetings, asked to reduce the same amount of daily caloric and fat intake, and instructed to spend the same total amount of time exercising each day.

Of the three groups, only one was given home exercise equipment. Different groups were instructed to complete the exercise within different schedules: at least three 10-minute exercise sessions a day; at least three 10-minute exercise sessions a day with the option of home exercise equipment; or one exercise session a day at least 30 minutes long.

Among all of the groups, the biggest weight loss occurred at six months, after which people began to regain weight. The group with treadmills regained the least amount.

Also, women with treadmills doing shorter, multiple sessions of daily exercise lost more weight by the end of the study than women doing the longer single daily sessions: 16.3 pounds compared to 12.8 pounds.

"The treadmills helped participants accumulate the short sessions of activity that they were asked to perform," Jakicic said.

The findings support the idea that there are a number of options for effectively incorporating exercise into a person's lifestyle. People who find it difficult to commit to an exercise regimen that consists of carving out a single, long block of time each day may find the shorter, more frequent sessions an effective option, Jakicic said.

But the findings have obvious limitations when making widespread recommendations because not everyone can afford home exercise equipment, said Jakicic. Also, research still needs to be done on the effectiveness of the home exercise equipment in the regimen of a longer, single session each day.

Other researchers involved in the study were Carena Winters and Wei Lang of the University of Pittsburgh; and Rena R. Wing, professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Brown University School of Medicine. The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Brown University

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