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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Study finds brisk walks can cut hidden fat

By Nanci Hellmich
USA Today

Regular exercise such as walking briskly reduces deep, hidden belly fat, possibly lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer, according to a new study.

Brisk walking can help cut intra-abdominal fat — and the risk of heart disease.

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This is the first large-scale trial to show that exercise alone can reduce intra-abdominal or visceral fat, which many scientists say is the most dangerous kind. The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association adds to a growing body of evidence on the health benefits of moderate activity. Women were used as subjects, but the health benefits should also apply to men.

Researchers recruited 173 sedentary women, ages 50 to 75. The women were either overweight (10 to 30 pounds over a healthy weight) or obese (about 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight). Most had high levels of intra-abdominal fat.

Half of them worked out for 45 minutes five days a week at a gym or at home. Their exercise often involved brisk walks. The other half attended a weekly 45-minute stretching class. The women were asked to eat as they usually did and not change their calorie intake. Scientists measured total body fat and their fat near the organs.

Most people don't know how much intra-abdominal fat they have because it's deposited around organs within the abdomen; the only accurate way to determine the amount of this fat is with CT or MRI scans.

Larger amounts of intra-abdominal fat have an effect on cholesterol and insulin and are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Those who best adhered to the exercise program got the largest decreases in total and intra-abdominal fat at the end of a year.

  • The exercisers lost 3.4 percent to 6.9 percent of their intra-abdominal fat, depending on how much they exercised. The control group stayed the same.
  • Very active exercisers lost 4.2 percent of their total body fat, and moderately active exercisers lost 2.4 percent. The control group stayed the same.
  • The exercisers lost about 3 pounds; members of the control group lost no weight.