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Mar 13, 2015

What Kind of Exercise is Best for Waist Size?

Both low- and high-impact exercise help us lose weight, but each provides different types of added benefits.

More intense workouts won’t necessarily lead to a smaller waistline, according to a study comparing the effect of low- and high-intensity exercise on waist circumference.

It’s estimated that 60% of men and 45% of women between the ages of 35 and 65 are abdominally obese, carrying excess fat around the waist. Unfortunately, belly fat may be the most dangerous kind of body fat, increasing risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other serious medical conditions.  

To address this issue, researchers tested the impact of both low- and high-intensity exercise on waist size. It’s well-established that physical activity is an important part of losing or maintaining a healthy weight, but little is known about the added benefits of more vigorous exercise on weight and overall health.

Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, this study assigned 300 adults with abdominal obesity to exercise five times a week over a six-month period. The only difference was that participants were randomly chosen to exercise at varying intensities, ranging from low intensity (walking) to high intensity (running). Over the course of the study, researchers tracked participants’ waistlines and blood sugar levels to see if exercise intensity had any impact on these outcomes.

After analysis, researchers found that all exercise groups experienced similar weight loss and reductions in waist size compared to individuals who were not physically active. However, high-intensity exercise was the only type of physical activity that improved blood sugar levels and significantly improved physical fitness.

The take home message, as authors explain, is that for the same amount of exercise, more vigorous exercise may not result in a slimmer waistline. All types of exercise aid in weight loss, and it’s most important that individuals choose a type of exercise they can stick with, instead of knocking themselves out with a high-intensity exercise. However, if achieving the highest level of physical fitness is an important goal, more intense workouts are likely to boost one’s fitness level more than less vigorous exercise.

Based on their findings, authors also encourage future research on varying levels of exercise intensity and blood sugar control. In this study, high-intensity exercise was associated with reductions in blood sugar. It’s well established that regular exercise can help patients prevent and/or manage type 2 diabetes, but additional research is needed to determine exactly which type of exercise is most beneficial when it comes to blood sugar control.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy waist circumference?
  • Waist circumference is an important tool used to assess an individual’s weight. A healthy waist circumference is less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men. Having too much fat in the waist and abdomen has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and other serious conditions, so maintaining a healthy waist circumference is important to promoting good health.
  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.


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