When it comes to long-term weight management, "Eat healthy and exercise more" may seem like straightforward, scientifically sound advice to follow. But a 20-year study from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health identified the many specific dietary and lifestyle habits that influence a person's ability to effectively manage their weight over time.
The researchers analyzed the dietary habits of 120,877 U.S. men and women between 1986 and 2006, with follow-up periods every four years. All participants were free of chronic diseases and were not obese, and the researchers factored age, gender, BMI, and lifestyle choices into their analysis. After recording the participants' weight and dietary habits over a 20-year period, they ultimately identified vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt as the foods most closely associated with weight loss, while potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats, and processed meats were strongly linked to weight gain.
In terms of lifestyle, regular exercise was associated with weight loss, while drinking alcohol, smoking, watching television, and getting too much or too little sleep (less than six hours or more than eight) were associated with weight gain. While the study was ultimately conducted in an effort to identify key causes of obesity (and how to prevent it), their findings serve as a guidebook for anybody looking to maintain a healthy weight over the course of their lifetime. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.