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Health Research
Agnus Alexander | agnusalexander122

Exercise is Valuable, Even if it Doesn’t Make You Thin

Jan 2nd 2014 at 9:46 PM

It Can Help Your Heart Survive Your Beer Belly

The grim prediction issued by the Centers for Disease Control that by the year 2030 some 42 percent of adults in the U.S. will be obese, as reported in Lab Notes last week, was accompanied by a laundry list of recommended actions that could be taken to dampen this singularly unhealthy and ruinously costly trend. I was a bit surprised by how many of these stressed physical activity and exercise, since it has become well established that simple exercise is horribly inefficient, and largely ineffective, when it comes to shedding weight. We’ll get back to that.

The report, which was presented at the recent Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, also considered an array of causal or influential factors in our unhealthy national eating and activity patterns, of which there were a plethora, from the price of vegetables to the availability of the Internet. (Plug opportunity: For a truly comprehensive if nonacademic list of such factors, see my ebook, “115 Reasons Why It’s Not Your Fault If You’re Fat.” )

But more important than any of these single contributors, they found, was the simple aging of the U.S. population. Take the fact that people normally put on weight as they get older, add the Boomer generation, and you get an impressive chunk of our growth curve right there. The report also noted the discouraging statistic that some 80 percent of Americans who successfully diet wind up regaining any weight they lost, and often more. The dreary message seems to be, “You’re going to pack on more pounds as the years pass, and neither gym sessions nor manual lawn mowing will prevent that.”

But before this downbeat theme has you throwing out your jogging shoes and holding a garage sale for your free weights and bicycles, there’s breaking news in the matter of physical fitness and excess weight. Whole sheafs of studies have been done on the question, “Are there heath benefits to staying fit through physical activity even if you still get fat?” The findings have been all over the lot, from “Absolutely!” to “Not a chance!” But these studies all tended to be of the short-term or one-time-measurement variety.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina sifted through data that covered over 3,000 people for at least six years, with several medical exams over that time. What they found was that yes, indeed, almost everybody in the study got fatter. The healthiest subjects were those who hadn’t gained weight, unsurprisingly. But those fat-gainers who had remained physically and aerobically fit through physical activity were only 49 percent more likely than the non-gainers to suffer from the cluster of risk factors called metabolic syndrome. That’s hardly a cheery number, but it beats the 71 percent increased likelihood among the fat-and-no-longer-fit.

The study’s central conclusion was that exercise won’t erase fat or the health and heart risks that accompany it, but it can significantly help to increase your longevity odds. Since everybody ages, and most people put on fat in the process, exercise would seem to be more, not less, important as the years go by.

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