Aerobic Fitness Could Be More Beneficial than Strength Training for Obese Teen Girls

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In a society that appears to value health, vanity, and fitness, our obese population continues to grow.  Childhood obesity continues to increase at an alarming rate, despite more awareness about the risk factors associated with excess weight. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the United States in the past 30 years. How can we slow down the child obesity rate?  What are the best methods to combat this lifestyle disease? 

In a new study, published in the American Journal of Physiology, researchers revealed that obese teen girls who engaged in aerobic exercise have a lower risk of developing several pediatric diseases such as type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Pediatric Diseases Associated with Obesity

Type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, were once considered adult diseases.  Now, physicians and researchers are beginning to see increased cases of these lifestyle diseases in more teens and adolescents. 

Metabolic syndrome is a term to describe a cluster of conditions.  Typical symptoms of the disease are increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels.  If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes increases significantly. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease refers to an accumulation of fat in the liver.  For some, this accumulation can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver that leads to liver impairment over time.

With obesity, the first line of approach is always diet and increased activity.  In conjunction, faster results are usually demonstrated.  SoJung Lee, of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg, and her colleagues found that when obese adolescent boys simply increased their physical activity alone, they improved in several areas of health.  These include reducing total fat, visceral fat, liver fat, and improving cardiorespiratory fitness.  Visceral fat or “belly fat” is typically associated with diabetes and describes the fat that surrounds the organs in the abdomen. 


Using the results from the obese adolescent boys research, SoJung Lee and colleagues seek to determine if physical activity might work in the same way for obese adolescent girls.  This time, Lee performed a new study that compared the health effects between aerobic exercise and weight-lifting over three months to remaining sedentary.  Just like the previous study, calorie restriction was not part of the research.

44 obese girls between 12 and 18 years old were recruited for the study.  The volunteers were separated into three groups.  Group one assignment was to perform 60 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week for three months.  The girls could either run on a treadmill or use an elliptical trainer.  Participants wore heart rate monitors to ensure achievement of target heart rate.

Group two assignment was to perform a series of 10 whole body exercises, three times per week, for 60 minutes per day.  Each training session included leg press, leg extension, leg flexion, chest press, latissimus pull down, seated row, bicep curl and tricep extension using stack weight equipment.  Additionally, a single set of push-ups and sit-ups were performed.

Group 3 was asked not to participate in any structured physical activity program over the course of the 3 months.


Results from the study showed that both exercise groups had less total fat and intramuscular fat by the end of the three-month study compared to the sedentary group.  However, those in the aerobic exercise group lost visceral and liver fat and improved their insulin sensitivity, while the other groups did not. The obese adolescent girls complied well with the prescribed exercise training regimens resulting in high attendance rates. 

However, when asked if they liked their prescribed exercise regimen, the girls in the strength training regimen did not enjoy their exercises as much as the aerobic group.  Given the gains made and the overall higher enjoyment factor of aerobic exercise, the researchers concluded that aerobic activity may be a better exercise regimen for obese adolescent girls.  With exercise and movement, I always tell my clients to find something that they enjoy. Getting out to exercise will be easier if you like what you are doing.



American Journal of Physiology


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