Physical activity and changes in weight and waist circumference in midlife women: Findings from the study of women's health the nation

Barbara Sternfeld, Hua Wang, Charles P. Quesenberry, Barbara Abrams, Susan A. Everson-Rose, Gail A. Greendale, Karen A. Matthews, Javier I. Torrens, Mary Fran Sowers

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219 Scopus citations


Controversy exists regarding the extent to which age, menopausal status, and/or lifestyle behaviors account for the increased weight, fat mass, and central adiposity experienced by midlife women. To address this question, the authors longitudinally examined the relations of aging, menopausal status, and physical activity to weight and waist circumference in 3,064 racially/ethnically diverse women aged 42-52 years at baseline who were participating in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN), an observational study of the menopausal transition. Over 3 years of follow-up (1996-1997 to 1999-2000), mean weight increased by 2.1 kg (standard deviation (SD), 4.8) or 3.0% (SD, 6.5) and mean waist circumference increased by 2.2 cm (SD, 5.4) or 2.8% (SD, 6.3). Change in menopausal status was not associated with weight gain or significantly associated with increases in waist circumference. A one-unit increase in reported level of sports/exercise (on a scale of 1-5) was longitudinally related to decreases of 0.32 kg in weight (p < 0.0001) and 0.10 cm in waist circumference (not significant). Similar inverse relations were observed for daily routine physical activity (hiking and walking for transportation and less television viewing). These findings suggest that, although midlife women tend to experience increases in weight and waist circumference over time, maintaining or increasing participation in regular physical activity contributes to prevention or attenuation of those gains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)912-922
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 1 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Nursing Research, and the Office of Research on Women’s Health, National Institutes of Health.


  • Adipose tissue
  • Body constitution
  • Body weight changes
  • Exercise
  • Menopause
  • Physical fitness
  • Prospective studies
  • Weight gain

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