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Maintaining Heart Health After Weight Gain With Resistance Training

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Like millions of other Americans, I struggle with my weight. Unfortunately for my figure, my mother (as was her mother before her) is a world class cook. I wish I could say that the food we consumed growing up was “healthy” but it was, in fact, sin on a platter and the federal government would probably have stamped cholesterol warnings all over it. As a result, consumption of rich (and totally delicious!) foods, became a part of our family ritual which carried over into adult life in terms of a little more natural padding than most would care to carry. Not surprisingly, what was a little extra padding in my 20s eventually became a weight problem.

There is certainly no doubt that obesity is not only bad for your overall health and contributes to the development of many serious diseases and conditions, but it’s also a risk factor for heart disease. Like so many before me, when an early menopause hit, risk factors for heart disease took on a whole new meaning as I struggled to lose those extra pounds. Despite the fact that I may look like the stay-puft-marshmallow-girl, I’m religious about exercise and work out an hour a day five times a week. The problem is that even though I’m working out and working hard (resistance training, cycling or spin classes, aerobics, NIA, kick boxing and so forth), I’m not really losing any significant weight. Even though I love the exercise classes, I’ve been left wondering just how beneficial they are to my health, particularly with respect to improving my heart health, if there’s no accompanying weight loss. Researchers at the University of Missouri have answered that question.

There’s certainly no doubt that losing weight is beneficial to your health. Keeping the weight off long-term is problematic for most of us. Keeping the weight loss-weight gain yo-yo cycle in mind, the University of Missouri Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology took a different approach to health by asking a simple question: Other than weight loss, what steps can be taken to maintain good health even when there is weight gain?

To answer this question, researchers conducted a two-phase study designed to simulate the weight loss-weight gain cycle. Phase One consisted of working with participants (all of whom were obese) over an eight to 12-week period. All participants followed a prescribed diet and were required to engage in regular aerobic exercise. At the end of the study period, all participants a four to six percent weight loss. Phase Two of the study led the same participants in a weight gain cycle (50 percent weight regained). Instead of aerobic exercise, participants in Phase Two engaged in resistance (weight) training (45 minute sessions, three times per week).

Researchers found that even with weight gain, participants could still maintain their health and even reduce their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, if they engaged in regular resistance training. In addition to reducing risk of chronic conditions, regular resistance training also helped participants to maintain the benefits that they received from the initial weight loss such as lower blood pressure, respiratory fitness, less body fat and lean body mass, and improved overall strength. Earlier studies found similar results for aerobic exercise as with the resistance training.

One area that did not maintain improvement was visceral fat. Visceral fat is that layer of deep fat which sits on the internal organs. Many of us refer to visceral fat as menopause belly fat. Waist size, large bellies, and obesity are all risk factors for heart disease. If you want to maintain health, exercise is good for you even if you are in a weight gain cycle and will lessen your risk of heart disease. However, if you also have visceral fat, you’ll need to add weight loss to gain the most heart health benefits.

University of Missouri-Columbia (2010, September 22). Putting on the pounds after weight loss? Hit the gym to maintain health gains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/09/100922124344.htm

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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