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Study Shows Even a Little Exercise Keeps Visceral Fat at Bay

By L. K. Regan

A solid body of recent research indicates that working out does not necessarily lead to weight loss. But a new study suggests that, if you have managed to lose some weight, just a moderate amount of exercise will help you keep it off, and will prevent the return of deadly visceral fat. Even a little exercise goes a long way.

The study, conducted by exercise physiologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, assigned nearly 100 men and women to one of three groups: aerobic training, resistance training, or no exercise at all. The subjects were then given a very restrictive calorie-controlled diet, such that they each lost an average of 24 pounds. For the year following the weight loss, the resistance training and aerobic training groups both worked out twice a week for 40 minutes each time. After a year, the groups were divided again, and half the people who had been exercising were told to stop.

Throughout the study, the researchers tracked not only the subjects' total weight, but their percentage of visceral fat. Visceral fat is fat that is stored in the abdominal cavity, surrounding the vital organs. It leads to a round stomach—but more importantly, it is associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even depression. They found that even relatively little exercise kept the dreaded visceral fat at bay. Says lead researcher Dr. Gary Hunter, "What we found was that those who continued exercising, despite modest weight regains, regained zero percent visceral fat a year after they lost the weight. But those who stopped exercising, and those who weren't put on any exercise regimen at all, averaged about a 33 percent increase in visceral fat."

This result is important because it suggests, for the first time, that relatively little exercise is needed to manage visceral fat, even if it doesn't maintain overall weight loss. "Because other studies have reported that much longer training durations of 60 minutes a day are necessary to prevent weight regain, it's not too surprising that weight regain was not totally prevented in this study," writes Hunter. Study participants regained some, though by no means all, of their previous weight. "It's encouraging, however," Hunter concludes, "that this relatively small [amount] of exercise was sufficient to prevent visceral fat gain."