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Study: Ditching & Keeping Off the Abdominal Fat

Photo by lululemon athletica via Flickr

Photo by lululemon athletica via Flickr

Last year Tracy’s doctor told her that she needed to lose some weight, especially in her midsection (visceral fat).  He said it was an important step towards decreasing her risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, both of which her family had a history.
He had been concerned because she had gained 30 pounds between doctor’s appointments, with most of it in her midsection.  Taking his advice to heart, Tracy started working out at least 30 minutes a day, 5-6 times a week, and changed her diet to a much healthier one. A year later, she was back to a healthy weight and feeling good about her accomplishments. Now she had to maintain her weight loss, but wasn’t sure how much time she needed to dedicate to exercise to prevent the return of the harmful visceral fat.

A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Human Studies may have the answer for Tracy.

Study:
Scientists from the University of Alabama looked at how exercise affects the regain of harmful visceral fat a year after weight loss.  In the study, 45 European-American and 52 African-American women, were randomly placed into 3 different groups: aerobic training, resistance training or no exercise.  All participants were placed on an 800 calorie-a-day diet* and lost an average of 24 pounds.  Researchers then measured total fat, abdominal subcutaneous fat and visceral fat for each participant.  Afterward, participants in the two exercise groups were asked to continue exercising 40 minutes a day, twice a week for a year.  At the end of the study, the researchers found that the individuals that continued to exercise, even though they had regained some weight, had not regained any visceral fat.  The ones who stopped exercising or weren’t put on any exercise program, regained, on average, about 33 percent of the lost visceral fat.

So what does that mean?
That means that even after you achieve your weight loss goal, you can’t stop exercising.  Even a small amount of exercise can be beneficial in preventing the return of visceral fat.  In this study, exercising a minimum of 80 minutes a week, either aerobic or resistance, was all that was needed to prevent regains.  That is important because excess visceral fat increases risk of both heart disease and diabetes.  But if the goal is not just preventing the return of visceral fat, but also maintaining the other weight loss, exercise longer than 80 minutes weekly is probably necessary.

*BeingHealthy.tv recommends against starvation diets and is only reporting on this study for the purpose of detailing the importance of exercising in order to prevent the return of unhealthy visceral fat. Weight loss should be done in a slower, healthier manner than that undertaken in this study.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham (2009, October 29) (via ScienceDaily)

Comments (8)

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  3. Maria Isabel says:

    I feel good when I exercise regularly.I have to get back to my schedule.

  4. peg dash fab says:

    I have some questions about this study.

    [I obtained a copy of the study and answered some of my own questions.]

    USDA estimated daily calorie needs for adult females is over 2,000 calories per day. How long were the participants on a starvation diet (800 calories per day!) while losing an average of 24 pounds?

    [Participants remained on the diet until they reduced their BMI from an initial 27-30 kg/m^2 to a target BMI of 25. This took an average of five months, +/- two months.]

    In the follow-up study, did the participants remain on the starvation diet? Or were they permitted to eat normal meals?

    [The participants were given instructions on a balanced diet, but were not forced to follow the instructions. In fact the study does not discuss adherence to the follow-up diet recommendation. This uncontrolled variable seems to call into question the validity of the conclusions drawn.]

    I was under the impression that BeingHealthy.tv recommends against starvation diets for weight loss, yet this study is presented without criticism.

    • Talli van Sunder says:

      That’s a reasonable criticism Peg. BeingHealthy.tv definitely recommends against starvation diets. Maybe it would have been better to have stated so in the post, but what I was doing was merely reporting on the findings and not the advisability of the diet choices. That’s probably because I was focusing on the role of exercise in the return of visceral fat. I incorrectly forgot that not everyone visiting the site will know our stance on starvation diets. I’ll add an edit to the article to make that clear to newer readers. Thanks for taking the time to leave a well thought out comment.

  5. Mo says:

    Regular (daily) exercise is essential for a healthy mind and a healthy body. Exercising burns off calories but it does so much more. It increases circulation and brings oxygen,vitamins and nutrients to every cell in you body (including your brain). You can loose weight and fat which is most people’s goal but without being physically active you will never be healthy.

  6. Julie says:

    This is just the information I need. Type 2 diabetes runs in both sides of my family and I know that visceral fat puts me at even higher risk. My mid-section is my problem area. It’s the first to store fat and the last to shed to it. I

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