Jul 16, 2014 3:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Can you stop counting calories? 

As long as you get plenty of exercise, you don’t have to watch what you eat, a new study suggests. In reality, experts say it’s not one or the other—you need to do both to fight the battle of the bulge.

Researchers from Stanford University’s School of Medicine looked at the past two decades and found a correlation between the rise in obesity rates and a drop in the time Americans spend being active.

"We wouldn't say that calories don't count, but the main takeaway is that we have to look very carefully at physical activity," Uri Ladabaum, MD, lead author of the research and a professor at Stanford Medical School, tells the Los Angeles Times.

“The problem is not all in the intake of calories,” says Ladabaum, whose findings will be published next month in the American Journal of Medicine. Ladabaum found that as of 2010, more than half of women and nearly half of men did absolutely no exercise in their free time.

There’s no doubt a sedentary lifestyle is a factor in weight gain, but our food choices also play a role, says Julie Metos, PhD, RD, an assistant professor and the interim chair of the Division of Nutrition at the University of Utah College of Health.

People need to think about how much they consume versus energy expended. And for many who are overweight and inactive, diet is an easier lifestyle change to make at first.

However, exercise helps keep weight off, because we’re so much less active in our daily lives today. “It’s really true—we move a lot less,” Metos says. “We don’t even get up and talk to people in the next office; we email them.”

Metos says people should aim to work up to 150 minutes of physical activity a week. The type of activity is less important than finding something you like enough to stick with it, she says. Swimming is great because it’s easy on the joints, but cycling, Zumba or walking are among the many activities that will do the trick.

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