Exercise in weight management of obesity

Cardiol Clin. 2001 Aug;19(3):459-70. doi: 10.1016/s0733-8651(05)70229-0.


Obesity is a chronic metabolic disorder associated with CVD and increased morbidity and mortality. When the BMI is > or = 30 kg/m2, mortality rates from all causes, and especially CVD, are increased by 50% to 100%. There is strong evidence that weight loss in overweight and obese individuals improves risk factors for diabetes and CVD. Additional evidence indicates that weight loss and the associated diuresis reduce blood pressure in both overweight hypertensive and nonhypertensive individuals, reduce serum TG levels, increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, and may produce some reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations. Of interest, even if weight loss is minimal, obese individuals showing a good level of cardiorespiratory fitness are at reduced risk for cardiovascular mortality than lean but poorly fit subjects. Insulin and catecholamines have pronounced metabolic effects on human adipose tissue metabolism. Insulin stimulates LPL and inhibits HSL; the opposite is true for catecholamines. There is regional variation in adipocyte TG turnover favoring lipid mobilization in the visceral fat depots and lipid storage in the peripheral subcutaneous sites. The hormonal regulation of adipocyte TG turnover is altered in obesity and is most marked in central obesity. There is resistance to insulin stimulation of LPL; however, LPL activity in fasted obese subjects is increased and remains so following weight reduction. Catecholamine-induced lipolysis is enhanced in visceral fat but decreased in subcutaneous fat. Numerous adaptive responses take place with physical training. These adaptations result in a more efficient system for oxygen transfer to muscle, which is now able to better utilize the unlimited lipid stores instead of the limited carbohydrate reserves available. In addition, the reduced adipose tissue mass represents an important mechanical advantage, allowing better long-term work. Gender differences have been reported in the adaptation of adipose tissue metabolism to aerobic exercise training. Physical training helps counteract the permissive and affluent environment that predisposes reduced-obese subjects to regain weight. An exercise program using weight resistance modalities may also be included safely, and it improved program retention in a multidisciplinary weight management program that was designed for obese children. Thirty to 45 minutes of physical activity of moderate intensity, performed 3 to 5 days a week, should be encouraged. All adults should set a long-term goal to accumulate at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all days. Public health interventions promoting walking are likely to be the most successful. Indeed, walking is unique because of its safety, accessibility, and popularity. It is noteworthy that there is a clear dissociation between the adaptation of cardiorespiratory fitness and the improvements in the metabolic risk profile that can be induced by endurance training programs. It appears that as long as the increase in energy expenditure is sufficient, low-intensity endurance exercise is likely to generate beneficial metabolic effects that would be essentially similar to those produced by high-intensity exercise. The clinician should therefore focus on the improvement of the metabolic profile rather than on weight loss alone. Realistic goals should be set between the clinician and the patient, with a weight loss of approximately of 0.5 to 1 pound per week. It should be kept in mind that since it generally takes years to become overweight or obese, a weight loss pattern of 0.5 or 1 pound per week will require time and perseverance to reach the proposed target. However, the use of physical activity as a method to lose weight seems inversely related to patients' age and BMI and directly related to the level of education. Thus, public health interventions helping these groups to become physically active remain a challenge and further emphasize the importance of the one-on-one interaction between the clinician/health care professional with the obese individual "at risk" of CVD. This notion is critical, as it has been shown that less than half of obese adults have reported being advised to lose weight under the guidance of health care professionals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / rehabilitation*
  • Sex Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Lipids