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Weighty Fix for Women's Midlife Fat

Lifting Weights Twice Per Week Curbs Middle-Age Flab, Study Shows
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 3, 2006 -- Lifting weights twice weekly helps women keep fat at bay in middle age, a new study shows.

The Strong Healthy and Empowered (SHE) study wasn't about lean women staying slim while aging. Instead, participants were overweight or obese -- like most U.S. adults -- when the two-year project started.

An estimated 65% of U.S. adults aged 20 and older are overweight or obese, states the CDC.

In the SHE study, women stayed leaner as they got older if they did regular weight training, even without dieting. Key benefits were deep inside the belly, where fat is linked to greater risk of heart disease.

About the Study

Here's a quick look at the SHE study:

  • Participants were 164 overweight or obese women aged 25-44 who were premenopausal.
  • Researchers included the University of Pennsylvania's Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH.
  • Results will be presented in Phoenix at the American Heart Association's 46th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

Half of the women were asked to do strength training twice per week for two years. They got lessons and supervision for four months, along with ongoing support from certified fitness pros. Seventy percent stuck with the program for two years.

For comparison, the other women didn't get the strength-training program. Instead, they got a brochure recommending 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most days of the week.

The women weren't asked to diet. In fact, they were told not to change their diets in any way that might affect their weight during the study. Both groups were similar in age and BMI.

Strong Results From Strength Training

Age often brings flab, Schmitz notes in an American Heart Association news release.

"On average, women in the middle years of their lives gain one to two pounds a year and most of this is assumed to be fat," Schmitz says. Her study challenged that pattern.

Deep belly fat (visceral fat) rose about 6% in the strength-training group. The comparison group had a much bigger increase in visceral fat (20%).

The strength trainers also ditched nearly 4% of their body fat, the study shows. Body fat was stable for the comparison group, according to the news release.

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