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Women's Health

Physical Activity Levels Change with the Seasons

Study shows women work out more in summer, less in winter

Adverse weather and seasonal changes can be significant roadblocks on the path to a healthy lifestyle, suggests a study published in the February 2009 issue Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). According to the study, the link between physical activity and ideal environments may be particularly pronounced in older women.

Mark Newman, Ph.D., and his team monitored the physical activity levels of 508 post-menopausal Caucasian and black women in the "Women On the Move through Activity and Nutrition (WOMAN)" study during an 18-month period, using questionnaires and a pedometer. Participants were divided into two groups of physical activity counseling – lifestyle intervention and health education. Participants’ baseline step counts averaged over 7,000 per day during summer months, but fell nearly 2,000 steps during winter.

"We’ve long suspected that seasons influence physical activity levels," Newman said. "It’s natural to want to stay indoors more during colder months, leading to fewer opportunities to be physically active, which in turn, may negatively affect health."

The seasonal fluctuation in activity wasn’t limited to only climates with cold winters, however; women who lived in areas of the United States with extremely hot summers recorded lower activity levels during those time periods as well.

However, Newman’s study found that lifestyle intervention – including a physical activity component – was effective in keeping activity levels stable throughout all months of the year. Women in the lifestyle intervention group had little variation in month-to-month step counts, when compared to the health education group.

"Women aged 45 and 64 years– like those in our study – have some of the lowest reported activity levels of any population subgroup out there," Newman said. "It’s ironic, because physical activity is critical at this age, to optimize functionality and health during the aging process."

Health and fitness professionals – like personal trainers – can act as good lifestyle coaches for people struggling to increase or maintain their physical activity levels. ACSM’s ProFinderservice provides a searchable tool for finding ACSM-certified health and fitness professionals in cities and states around the country.

For more information on American College of Sports Medicine, visit www.acsm.org.


© 2009 Health Resources Publishing