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Impact on Physical Performance When Variations in Body Weight Occur

Embracing weight loss maintenance may result in better physical performance and health outcomes.

According to research, weight cycling and regaining after weight loss correlates with worse physical function in women and weaker grip strength in men with diabetes. Researcher Kristen M. Beavers, PhD, assistant professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University, analyzed data from 450 adults aged 45 to 76 years with T2DM and BMI greater than 25 kg/m2. There were 250 women with an average age of 59 years and mean BMI of 35.5 kg/m2 who participated in the Look AHEAD Movement and Memory Study. These participants lost weight one year after they were randomly assigned an intensive lifestyle intervention.

The study measured physical function with standing balance tasks, timed chair stands and a 4-min. walk. In addition, a 20-min. walking speed, 400-m walking endurance and grip strength were measured. Weight was followed up yearly for 8 years. Subjects were categorized as “losers /maintainers” if there was less than 5% weight gain from the previous year and the year 1 weight. If subjects gained 5% or more from the previous year and the year 1 weight, they were categorized as “regainers.” If subjects lost 5% or more from the previous year and the year 1 weight, they were categorized as “continued losers.” An overall “cycler” category was identified as a combination of “loser” and gainer” across yearly categories.

Researchers found 44% of subjects were identified as regainers; 38% as cyclers; 18% as losers or maintainers. When results were compared with women who were identified as continued losers/maintainers, women who were cyclers or regainers presented worse on follow-up expanded physical performance battery scores. In addition, they had a slower 20-min. walking speed. Interestingly, male weight cyclers had weaker grip strength when compared with regainers or continued losers/maintainers.

Authors believe that there is definitely immediate benefit on physical performance with weight loss; however, embracing weight loss maintenance may result in better physical performance and health outcomes. This suggestion seems to appropriate for overweight and obese middle-aged and older adults with diabetes.

Practice Pearls:

  • It is important for clinicians to work with diabetes patients struggling with weight loss to monitor and emphasize stable weight loss maintenance for prolonged functional independence.
  • Healthcare providers should encourage patients in this population to monitor body weight changes in order to identify potential factors for poor physical performance and other weight-related complications.
  • Patients may refer to a specialist for help with weight loss maintenance if struggling with diabetes and obesity.

Beavers, K. M., et al. “Body weight dynamics following intentional weight loss and physical performance: the Look AHEAD Movement and Memory Study.” Obesity Science & Practice (2015).