If you’ve been keeping track of our blogs the past few weeks, you’ll know that visceral fat, or fat that wraps itself around the organs deep in the belly, is a cause for concern. This type of fat is linked with an increased risk of conditions ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer, and it can increase blood glucose and blood pressure.
As diabetes dietitian Amy Campbell noted in her “Blasted Belly Fat” blog series, there are a number of ways to reduce this type of fat, including exercise. And new research from Duke University Medical Center indicates that aerobic exercise is better than resistance exercise when it comes to getting rid of visceral fat.
Aerobic exercise consists of repeated and continuous use of the same large muscle groups and increases the body’s demand for oxygen, making the heart and lungs work harder. Examples include walking, bicycling, swimming, and jogging. Resistance exercise involves using the muscles to move a weight or resist a load, such as in weight lifting and exercises that use resistance bands.
The researchers looked at 196 overweight, sedentary adults from the ages of 18 to 70 over the course of eight months. The participants were randomly assigned to either an aerobic training group, a resistance training group, or a group combining the two types of exercise. Those in the aerobic training group performed exercises equivalent to jogging 12 miles weekly at 80% of their maximum heart rate; those in the resistance training group performed three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of resistance exercises (such as weight lifting) three times each week.
Pure aerobic exercise was found to be the most effective at reducing levels of the dangerous visceral fat, at burning calories (67% more calories compared to resistance training), and at reducing liver fat. Aerobic exercise was also more effective at improving fasting insulin resistance and reducing fasting triglyceride levels and liver enzymes, all risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Cris Slentz, PhD, lead study author, observes that “Resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean body mass. But if you are overweight, which two thirds of the population is, and you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the better choice because it burns more calories.”
Although the exercise programs used in the study were fairly vigorous, the study authors believe that moderate training programs could achieve the same results as well. “If you choose to work at a lower aerobic intensity,” Slentz notes, “it will simply take longer to burn the same amount of unhealthy fat.”
To learn more about the study, read the article “Aerobic Exercise Bests Resistance Training at Burning Belly Fat” or see the study’s abstract in the American Journal of Physiology.
And for more information on using physical activity to beat fat, check out the article “Burning Fat Through Exercise,” by exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator Richard M. Weil.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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