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Aerobic Exercise May Help Reduce Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Diabetes

Aerobic Exercise May Help Reduce Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Diabetes: Main Image
Aerobic exercise improves blood sugar control and prevents heart disease and diabetes
Replacing fat with muscle may be good for your figure, but do the benefits of weight training measure up to those of aerobic exercise? Not according to a new study published in the American Journal of Cardiology. The study found that engaging in an aerobic exercise program improved risk factors for heart disease and diabetes in people with a combination of conditions known as metabolic syndrome, while engaging in a weight training program had no effect.

Exercise away metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a set of conditions that often occur together and that, as a group, are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In this study, all of the 196 participants had evidence of metabolic syndrome and were given calculated scores based on their HDL (“good”) cholesterol, triglyceride, and fasting blood sugar levels, as well as waist circumference and blood pressure.

After a four-month prelude, during which participants were instructed not to exercise, they were divided into three groups: an aerobic exercise group, a weight-training group, and a combined weight-training plus aerobic exercise group. Aerobic exercisers did the equivalent of walking or jogging approximately 12 miles per week at a moderate pace, and weight trainers did three sessions per week of weight lifting exercises that involved the upper and lower body, for eight months.

Aerobic exercise has more benefits

The results were as follows:

  • Fitness levels improved in all groups, and strength increased in the weight-training and combined exercise groups.
  • The aerobic and combined exercise groups dropped in waist circumference, lost weight, and experienced reduced triglyceride levels, but the weight-training group did not.
  • Metabolic syndrome scores improved similarly in the aerobic and combined exercise groups, but were unchanged in the weight-training group.

“When weighing the time commitment versus health benefit, the data suggest that aerobic training alone was the most efficient mode of exercise for addressing the health issues associated with metabolic syndrome,” the study’s authors said.

Another reminder to exercise, eat well, and lose weight

Metabolic syndrome is becoming more and more common in the US and the rest of the developed world. Obesity, especially abdominal obesity, and insulin resistance (when insulin no longer works efficiently to control blood sugar levels) are the most important components of metabolic syndrome. Scientists are still working out the causes, but prevention and treatment strategies are well established:

  • Lose weight. If you are overweight, set an initial goal of losing 7 to 10% of your current body weight.
  • Cut out sugar. Eat a low calorie diet that is low in sugars and refined grains, and high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
  • Exercise. The current study adds to a wealth of evidence showing that aerobic exercise improves blood sugar control and prevents heart disease and diabetes. Work up to a minimum average of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.

(Am J Cardiol 2011; online publication)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.