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Walking, the weight-loss equalizer

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LAS VEGAS -- Here's some weight-loss news that's good for wallet health: If you want to get more exercise, just going for walks can be as beneficial as a gym membership.

This was among the findings of two new studies presented here this week at the annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

In one study, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania asked 179 overweight people to follow a 40-week weight-loss program. Participants attended regular group weight-loss sessions and were told to limit their intake to 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day.

They followed one of three exercise plans. They either did 40 to 50 minutes of structured activity four days a week in the gym; or they did about the same amount at home; or they wore a pedometer and tried to increase their steps by 5,000 a day (walking another two more miles).

At the end of 20 weeks, participants in all three groups lost similar amounts, about 7% to 8% of their starting weight. At the end of 40 weeks, they were down about 8% to 9%.

After two years, participants had regained some of their weight but were still down an average 4% to 6% from their starting weight in all three groups.

''These findings suggest that lifestyle activity may be an excellent alternative for overweight individuals who hate to exercise,'' says Thomas Wadden, the study's lead author and director of the university's Weight and Eating Disorders Program.

In another study, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh monitored the weight loss of 59 women who consumed 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, went to weekly behavior-modification meetings and followed one of three exercise plans: a walking program alone; walking and light strength training; walking and yoga.

In six months, they had lost about 22 to 28 pounds in six months. There was no statistically significant difference in weight loss across the groups.

But on the other hand, resistance exercise and yoga may make it easier to perform everyday activities like carrying groceries and climbing stairs even if they don't advance weight loss, says John Jakicic, director of the Pittsburgh university's Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center.

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