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STUDY: Losing just over two pounds is associated with a 1% reduction in cholesterol and a 2% reduction in triglycerides.
JOURNAL: Journal of the American Medical Association 2003;289:323-330
AUTHORS: Dr. Anne McTiernan
ABSTRACT: Regular, moderate exercise can lower the risk of heart disease among older women by boosting fitness and trimming tummy fat, new research shows.
COMMENTARY: The study found that postmenopausal women who began an exercise program of brisk walking or cycling five days a week lowered their levels of abdominal fat by about 6% and lost weight, regardless of body weight or age.
Not surprisingly, the most active women lost the most body fat and the most weight.
Women who did no cardiovascular exercise but performed stretching exercises one day a week actually saw intra-abdominal fat and weight increase slightly after a year.
The results suggest a strategy for lowering the risk of heart disease, a leading cause of death among women. Intra-abdominal fat is considered a major risk factor for heart disease and is also associated with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Fit individuals, or those able to maintain an elevated heart rate over time, are also less likely to die of heart disease regardless of body weight, Dr. Anne McTiernan from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and colleagues explain.
Therefore, the study has implications for the soaring rates of obesity in the US. Nearly two-thirds of the adult population is now considered overweight or obese, as measured by body mass index (BMI). An adult with a BMI above 25 is considered overweight and one with a BMI exceeding 29 is considered obese.
Dieting, previous studies have shown, may be just part of the solution. To investigate the effect of regular exercise on body fat and weight, researchers divided 168 inactive women aged 50 to 75 years into two groups. All women had BMIs over 25.
The exercisers were instructed to walk on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bicycle for at least 45 minutes, five days a week, for one year. Weight training was recommended but not required. Women in the control group performed a series of stretching exercises one day a week for the year.
The most active women, or those who exercised more than 3 hours and 15 minutes a week, lost about 7% of their intra-abdominal fat, compared with a loss of 6% among intermediate exercisers, as measured by a CT scan. Those who exercised less than 2 hours and 15 minutes a week lost 3.4% of their intra-abdominal fat, while women in the control group gained 0.1% intra-abdominal fat, the study found.
Body weight decreased by an average of 1.3 kilograms (kg) or nearly three pounds in the group of exercises, while body weight rose very slightly (.2 pounds) in the group of stretchers.
"Women should be relieved that when they increase their exercise levels, they are doing good things for their bodies and health, even if they don't see much change on the scale," McTiernan said in an interview.
According to a study cited in her article, losing just over two pounds is associated with a 1% reduction in cholesterol and a 2% reduction in triglycerides, a type of body fat associated with heart disease. Losing this amount of weight can also reduce fasting blood sugar, an indicator of diabetes risk.