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Exercise Helps the Heart

Exercise can improve fitness and reduce cholesterol in overweight and obese people even when it does not result in weight loss, according to results of a study.

The findings are good news for overweight people tempted to quit their exercise program out of frustration that they are not losing weight.

"We now have the data for physicians who can tell their patients that they shouldn't focus so much on the scale," said researcher Dr. William Kraus, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, in a statement.

"These patients should not become discouraged and give up exercising, because our study shows that these patients are getting healthier even if they don't lose any weight," he added.

The preliminary study, published in the February issue of the journal Clinical Exercise Physiology, found that moderate cardiovascular exercise lowered LDL cholesterol -- known as the "bad" cholesterol because of its link to arterial disease -- and raised levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol.

Elevated cholesterol and excess weight are linked to heart risk. Studies have shown that regular exercise can lower cholesterol and reduce obesity among the general population.

In fact, if any of the seven mildly obese men and women in the study started to lose weight on the prescribed exercise program, the researchers altered their diet to maintain a constant weight.

The study showed that during the 3-month exercise program, the study participants converted body fat to muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat; therefore, people with more muscle have higher metabolic rates, a factor that may contribute to lower rates of heart disease, the authors write.

The exercise program used in the study burned 2,000 calories a week and included a 1-hour workout on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, stair exerciser and other equipment, four times a week. The intensity of the exercise increased as the 3-month study progressed.

All patients experienced an 11% increase in their exercise tolerance, which is probably due to the conversion of body fat into muscle, the investigators noted.

Furthermore, levels of artery clogging LDL cholesterol decreased significantly while HDL cholesterol, which may help clear arteries, increased.

The results of the study inspired the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to provide a $4.3 million grant that will allow researchers to conduct a much larger trial, which has been enrolling patients for the past year.

Overall, individuals who are aerobically fit (a measure of the body's ability to transport and use oxygen) appears to be one of the best determinants for lowering the risk of heart disease. Bursts of exercise that get the heart and lungs working at peak capacity may be of greater benefit than frequent, moderate activity.

Reference Source 39, 89

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