Exercise Fights 'Hidden' Body Fat
Study Shows Inactivity Can Lead to Buildup of Fat Deep Inside Belly
WebMD News Archive
Sept. 14, 2005 -- If you do just one thing to fight fat, exercise might be
the way to go, judging by a new study.
Consider the study's results:
- Inactivity led to a buildup of fat deep inside the belly.
- Modest amounts of exercise held the line on deep belly fat.
- Higher amounts of exercise cut deep belly fat and fat around the
The study appears in The Journal of Physiology. It took place at
Duke University under the supervision of exercise physiologist Cris Slentz,
PhD, and colleagues.
If Slentz had it his way, people would quit thinking "weight loss"
and start thinking "health gain."
"Until we are able to prevent the weight that many dieters regain
following short-term success, we should place a greater national emphasis
towards prevention," says Slentz in a news release.
"It will be a challenge to change the message from 'exercise now to lose
weight' to 'exercise now so in five years you won't be 20 pounds heavier,'"
If deep belly fat is hidden, why does it matter? The stakes may be too high
for an out-of-sight, out-of-mind outlook.
Deep belly fat (technically called "visceral fat" or fat surrounding
organs within the abdomen) has been linked to health problems including heart
disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of risk factors
that greatly increase the chance of developing these diseases.
Visceral fat hasn't been proven to cause those conditions, but it seems to
at least be a red flag of possible health risks, write Slentz and
By the way, visceral fat isn't just for the millions of overweight or obese
people. Thin people can also have visceral fat if they're not fit.
How Do You Compare?
Slentz's study included 175 men and women in North Carolina. See how you
compare to them:
- All were overweight, inactive, and had mild-to-moderate cholesterol
- They were 40-65 years old.
- The women were postmenopausal.
- None had diabetes, high blood pressure, or plans to diet.
- Nearly 20% were minorities.
Now, consider what participants agreed to do for six months:
- Stay sedentary (the comparison group)
- Get low amounts of moderate-intensity exercise (equal to walking 12 miles
- Get low amounts of vigorous-intensity exercise (equal to jogging 12 miles
- Get high amounts of vigorous-intensity exercise (equal to jogging 20 miles
Participants used treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical trainers.
They were directly supervised or wore heart-rate monitors to check their
They were also counseled not to diet or change their diet during the
Blasting Belly Fat
Before-and-after imaging scans of the belly were done to check visceral fat.
- Visceral fat rose by nearly 9% in the idle group.
- Visceral fat didn't change with low amounts of exercise (at either
- Visceral fat dropped 7%, on average, in people who got a lot of vigorous
The group that got the most vigorous exercise also had a 7% drop in fat
around their waistlines. They were the only group that lost fat.