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Weight Control

New Study Demonstrates Greater Fitness Benefits of Comprehensive Weight Loss Program Over Just Exercise Alone

The results of a new study, which evaluated the changes in cardiovascular fitness from a comprehensive weight-loss program compared to exercise alone, demonstrated a significant improvement in the group that participated in the weight-loss program.

The group participating in the comprehensive weight-loss program – Weight Watchers (WW) – which included a balanced energy deficit diet, exercise and weekly meetings, showed improvements in overall exercise capacity and cardiovascular fitness level. The exercise only group (EO) did not. In addition, weight decreased significantly in the WW group, but not in the EO group.

Both obesity and lack of physical activity are major risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD). The average person does not get enough exercise. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults do not engage in the recommended amount of activity and about 25 percent are not active at all. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which publishes exercise recommendations for healthy adults, the goals of an activity plan include the maintenance of muscular strength and endurance, joint flexibility and cardio respiratory fitness. One of the most common, and most accurate, ways to assess aerobic fitness levels is to measure the amount of oxygen consumed by the body as an activity is performed. This method is expressed in studies as the percentage of maximum oxygen consumption, or %-VO2max.

The 12-week data of this ongoing study were presented for the first time by a team of researchers, led by James Rippe, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Founder and Director, Rippe Lifestyle Institute, at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO) annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

"Cardiovascular fitness is a predictor of heart disease," explained Dr. Rippe. "The small, but significant increase in VO2max seen in the WW group after 12 weeks is likely to provide a degree of cardioprotection that is superior to exercise alone." He added, "We are very excited about the potential impact of these findings and believe that it is due to the better compliance of the support provided in the WW group, as well as the healthier diet that is intrinsic to a comprehensive weight loss program." Previous studies have shown that for every 10 percent increase in cardiovascular fitness, the risk of heart disease decreases 15 percent.

Fifty-eight overweight or obese individuals enrolled in a 12-week weight-loss study and were randomly assigned into one of two groups – Exercise Only (EO), where participants were given an exercise prescription from an exercise physiologist according to the Surgeon General's recommendations on exercise, and Weight Watchers (WW), where participants were enrolled in Weight Watchers, a comprehensive weight-loss program that includes both structured diet and exercise components and weekly meetings. The exercise recommendation for the WW group was comparable to the exercise prescription given to the EO group.

Study Results VO2max significantly increased in the WW group (23.75 1 5.74 vs 25.55 1 6.35 ml/kg/min; p<0.001), but not in the EO group (25.57 1 7.20 vs 25.65 1 6.51 ml/kg/min; p=NS). Weight also decreased significantly in the WW group (182.58 1 24.14 vs 173.64 1 23.08 lbs, p<0.05) but not in the EO group (173.331 21.45 vs 172.42 1 20.07 lbs, p=NS).

"The fact that VO2max increased in the WW group only might suggest better compliance to the protocol, facilitated by the meeting-based support system inherent in the program," explained Dr. Rippe. "We hope to dispel the myth that exercise is the only key to weight loss or fitness by sharing the information about the benefits of a comprehensive weight loss program, so that people understand the important role of physical activity." He added, "This study confirms the recommendation of the Weighing the Options report from the Institute of Medicine, which states that a comprehensive weight loss program is the most effective way of losing weight in a healthy way."

Understanding the Benefits of a Comprehensive Weight Loss Program

According to the Institute of Medicine's Weighing the Options, the basic elements of obesity treatment should include self-monitoring, goal setting, exercise, nutrition education, stress management and social support.

Sustained weight loss comes from taking a holistic view of all components so that together, in a science-based approach that people can follow, a successful program will be able to:

  • Produce a rate of weight loss of up to two pounds per week;

  • Guide food choices that not only reduce calories, but meet current scientific recommendations for nutritional completeness and reduced disease risk;

  • Construct an activity plan that provides the full range of weight- and health-related benefits thatexercise offers;

  • Be sustainable.

Clinical research continues to support that, when it comes to weight loss, following a self-administered food plan does not provide the same results as a comprehensive approach. That is why, time and again, a comprehensive weight loss program, one that includes a diet plan, exercise, new thinking skills and the support of a weekly meeting, is proven to be the most effective.

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