Exercise is better than weight-loss drugs at reducing deep abdominal fat, according to an analysis of 17 clinical trials, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in February 2019.
Visceral fat (which surrounds internal organs) increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat (under the skin). All of the studies in the analysis lasted at least six months, and most involved exercise alone (which was monitored). Visceral fat was measured via CT or MRI scans. The drugs studied included orlistat (brand name Xenical or Alli) and metformin (a diabetes drug that leads to weight loss).
Compared to the drugs, exercise resulted in greater reductions in visceral fat relative to overall weight loss. Aerobic exercise reduced visceral fat most (though strength training was also beneficial). Because exercise may be better at reducing visceral than subcutaneous fat, and because it can build lean tissue (muscle and bone), it may produce minimal or no weight loss. Thus, focusing on weight loss alone to monitor the success of exercise may underestimate its metabolic benefits, the researchers said.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see More Bad News About Belly Fat.