• Researchers amazed to find obese people with belly fat who do 30 minutes' high-intensity exercise a week offset cardiovascular disease risk

There is good news for obese people, who are at risk of cardiovascular disease such as stroke and the kind that can cause heart attacks: exercising vigorously for 30 minutes a week can offset that risk.

And for those who find it a challenge to do high-intensity exercise such as running or HIIT - high-intensity interval training - 8 to 9 hours a week of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, will have the same effect.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found obese people with belly fat who exercised did not have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared to people who did not have fat around their middle.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

"It was astonishing for us to see that the risk of high waist circumference was completely overset in those who were the most active," said researcher Melody Ding, a professor of public health at The University of Sydney.

The research used data from more than 70,000 participants aged 37 to 73, 56 per cent of whom were female.

While exercising at different intensity levels, they wore wrist accelerometers that track motion, orientation and activity levels to measure the link between belly fat and the risk of heart disease.

Vigorous-intensity exercise included that which significantly raised the heart rate, causing the person to be out of breath. This can include:

  • running

  • swimming

  • riding a bicycle fast or on hills

  • walking up stairs

  • skipping

  • aerobics: and

  • sports such as football, rugby, netball and hockey.

Moderate-intensity exercise could include:

  • walking

  • water aerobics

  • riding a bicycle

  • dancing

  • playing doubles tennis.

Light-intensity activities demand an even lower effort, and are often done incidentally, such as strolling or doing housework.

The results suggest physical activity of any intensity can mitigate or even offset the link between belly fat and cardiovascular disease. Those that exercised at moderate to vigorous intensity saw the most benefit, while those who were relatively inactive were more at risk.

The take-home message is that everyone should be as active as they can be to their capacity
Researcher Melody Ding, professor of public health

While it would appear vigorous exercise such as running may be 15 times more effective than a gentle walk in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Ding cautioned against interpreting the results in this way.

"Ideally, we want a diverse range of activities for optimal health. Some activities, such as balance training and stretching, are light in nature.

"The take-home message is that everyone should be as active as they can be to their capacity," she said. "If light intensity is all one can do, it is important to encourage that."

Lead author Adriano SAnchez-Lastra, of the University of Vigo in Spain, said high- intensity activity should be prioritised when time is limited.

"Incorporating brief bursts of higher-intensity activities into daily life could be more efficient and achievable than aiming for much longer durations of lower-intensity physical activity," he added.

Heart disease kills seven times more women than breast cancer globally according to the World Health Organization, and obesity is one of the risk factors. It is of particular concern in China, where heart disease and stroke account for almost half of all female deaths.

Obesity is one of the leading causes of heart and cardiovascular disease, yet obesity rates continue to climb in China. A National Health Commission report showed adult obesity rates had more than doubled from 7.1 per cent in 2002 to 16.4 per cent in 2020, and that over half of adults in China, more than half a billion people, were overweight.

The authors of the recent obesity and exercise study said current physical activity recommendations were flawed. The guideline of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity, per week suggested that moderate exercise was just half as effective as vigorous-intensity exercise.

"We found that approximately 15 times more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was needed to mitigate the association between [belly fat] with incident cardiovascular disease compared with vigorous physical activity," said the study authors.

"This difference may be explained by the higher-intensity physical activity leading to improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, also known as the fat-but-fit paradox."

Too much focus on weight could potentially discourage individuals, as well as stigmatising obesity
Professor Ding on the need to encourage exercise, not weight loss

Previous studies have shown small bouts of intensive exercise can improve cardiorespiratory fitness and have positive cardiovascular effects that may be greater than those from moderate-intensity activity.

Ding said the more important public health message was shifting the emphasis away from weight loss. Instead, messages should focus on encouraging people to do small amounts of vigorous exercise to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

"Weight may not change easily and too much focus on weight could potentially discourage individuals, as well as stigmatising obesity," said Ding.

Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here.

More Articles from SCMP

South Korea’s Jeju taps Indonesian influencer Anang Hermansyah to restore tourism lustre

Was fallen Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe compromised by hostile force?

Hong Kong permanent residents book up service centre to get new mainland travel permit

Japan youth pay ‘resignation agents’ to handle quitting, wage disputes, boss conflicts

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2024. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

2024-07-10T03:46:09Z dg43tfdfdgfd