What exercise program can best fight obesity? According to a Canadian study, aerobic exercise combined with resistance training may be answer.
The study specifically targeted youth. “Obesity is an epidemic among youth,” said Dr. Ron Sigal of the University of Calgary’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health and Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. “Adolescents who are overweight are typically advised to exercise more, but there is limited evidence on what type of exercise is best in order to lose fat.” The same applies to adults as well.
Eighty per cent of overweight youth typically continue to be obese as adults, adversely affecting the quality of their lives and contributing to chronic disease problems. Adult obesity increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and disability.
The Healthy Eating Aerobic and Resistance Training in Youth (HEARTY) study, led by researchers at the University of Calgary and University of Ottawa, involved 304 overweight teens (14-18yrs) in the Ottawa/Gatineau area. All were on the same four weeks of dieting to promote healthy eating and weight loss. They were randomly placed into four groups for six months, some with exercise four times a week.
Supervised by personal trainers, youths in three exercise groups were asked to train four times per week for 22 weeks at community-based facilities. Changes in body fat were measured using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines.
The best strategy for weight loss emerged. The list of most to least successful strategies is as follows:
- Diet plus combined aerobic and resistance training;
- Diet plus resistance training involving weight machines and some free weights;
- Diet plus aerobic exercise on treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes;
- Diet only with no exercise training.
“Remarkably, waist circumference decreased close to seven centimetres in those randomized to combined aerobic plus resistance exercise, versus about four centimetres in those randomized to do just one type of exercise, with no change in those randomized to diet alone,” said University of Ottawa researcher Dr Glen Kenny.
Aerobic exercises such as cycling or jogging can be challenging for overweight people. Therefore, resistance training is potentially an attractive exercise because excess body weight poses far less of a disadvantage, and gains in strength come much more quickly than gains in aerobic fitness.
Although the study was specific to youths, its results are no doubt applicable to adults as well. Now there is a proven “best” strategy to weight loss – combined aerobic and resistance exercises, like Iron Yoga that I teach or Pole Fitness as another example.