The Effect of Aerobic and Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials

Adv Nutr. 2021 Feb 1;12(1):179-196. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmaa090.


Subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue (SAT), is the largest fat depot and major provider of free fatty acids to the liver. Abdominal fat is indirectly (via increased levels of low-grade inflammation) correlated with many of the adverse health effects of obesity. Although exercise is one of the most prominent components of obesity management, its effects on SAT are still unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the independent effects of aerobic training (AT) and resistance training (RT) modalities and combined exercise modalities on SAT in adults. PubMed, SCOPUS, and Google Scholar were searched to find relevant publications up to November 2018. The effect sizes were represented as weighted mean difference (WMD) and 95% CIs. Between-study heterogeneity was examined using the I2 test. Overall, 43 identified trials that enrolled 3552 subjects (2684 women) were included. After removal of outliers, combining effect sizes indicated a significant effect of AT (WMD: -13.05 cm2; 95% CI: -18.52, -7.57; P < 0.001), RT (WMD: -5.39 cm2; 95% CI: -9.66, -1.12; P = 0.01), and combined exercise training (CExT; WMD: -28.82 cm2; 95% CI: -30.83, -26.81; P < 0.001) on SAT relative to control groups. Pooled effect sizes demonstrated a significant effect of AT on SAT compared with a CExT group (WMD: 11.07 cm2; 95% CI: 1.81, 20.33; P = 0.01). However, when comparing the AT and RT groups, no significant difference was seen in SAT (WMD: -0.73 cm2; 95% CI: -4.50, 3.04; P = 0.70). Meta-analysis of relevant trials indicated that AT, RT, and CExT lead to SAT reduction. Aerobic exercise was shown to produce greater efficacy in decreasing SAT.

Keywords: aerobic exercise; and meta-analysis; combined exercise; resistance training; subcutaneous abdominal fat.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Resistance Training*