Low levels of physical activity are associated with dysregulation of energy intake and fat mass gain over 1 year1,2

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Previous studies suggest that appetite may be dysregulated at low levels of activity, creating an energy imbalance that results in weight gain.


The aim was to examine the relation between energy intake, physical activity, appetite, and weight gain during a 1-y follow-up period in a large sample of adults.


Participants included 421 individuals (mean ± SD age: 27.6 ± 3.8 y). Measurements included the following: energy intake with the use of interviewer-administered dietary recalls and calculated by using changes in body composition and energy expenditure, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) with the use of an arm-based monitor, body composition with the use of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and questionnaire-derived perceptions of dietary restraint, disinhibition, hunger, and control of eating. Participants were grouped at baseline into quintiles of MVPA (min/d) by sex. Measurements were repeated every 3 mo for 1 y.


At baseline, an inverse relation existed between body weight and activity groups, with the least-active group (15.7 ± 9.9 min MVPA/d, 6062 ± 1778 steps/d) having the highest body weight (86.3 ± 13.2 kg) and the most-active group (174.5 ± 60.5 min MVPA/d, 10260 ± 3087 steps/d) having the lowest body weight (67.5 ± 11.0 kg). A positive relation was observed between calculated energy intake and activity group, except in the lowest quintile of activity. The lowest physical activity group reported higher levels of disinhibition (P = 0.07) and cravings for savory foods (P = 0.03) compared with the group with the highest level of physical activity. Over 1 y of follow-up, the lowest activity group gained the largest amount of fat mass (1.7 ± 0.3 kg) after adjustment for change in MVPA and baseline fat mass. The odds of gaining >3% of fat mass were between 1.8 and 3.8 times as high for individuals in the least-active group as for those in the middle activity group.


These results suggest that low levels of physical activity are a risk factor for fat mass gain. In the current sample, a threshold for achieving energy balance occurred at an activity level corresponding to 7116 steps/d, an amount achievable by most adults. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01746186. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:1332–8.

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