Keeping Belly Fat at Bay

January 31, 2006

Letting the deep layer of belly fat surrounding the internal organs go unchecked can have lethal consequences--that's the bad news. Physicians have associated it with insulin resistance, heart disease, and other metabolic disorders. But the good news, according to Duke physiologists, is that it only takes a moderate amount of exercise to keep this potentially dangerous form of fat at bay.

In their study published in the October issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology, the researchers put 175 overweight sedentary men and women on supervised routines consisting of varied amounts of exercise on treadmills, elliptical trainers, or cycle ergometers. "The control group that did not exercise saw a sizable and significant 8.6 percent increase in visceral fat in only six months," says Duke exercise physiologist Cris Slentz, lead author of the study. "We also found that a modest exercise program equivalent to a brisk thirty-minute walk, six times a week, can prevent accumulation of visceral fat, while even more exercise can actually reverse the amount of visceral fat."

"We believe that these results shine a clear spotlight on the high costs Americans are paying for their continued inactivity," he says. "I don't believe that people in general have gotten lazier--it's more that they are working too hard or are at their desks working on computers with fewer opportunities for exercise. The situation is out of balance."

Slentz says that such findings mean that the emphasis on weight control needs to be shifted from exercising to lose existing weight, to exercising to prevent the steady weight gain that leads to such visceral fat.