fat around the heart

In a recent study, researchers investigated the effects of exercise on fat around the heart.

Cardiovascular disease, an umbrella term for many diseases involving the heart and vascular system, is responsible for the most deaths worldwide. A major cause of cardiovascular disease is obesity, which can result in fat deposits around the heart. Fat around the heart is found in two places: the pericardium, the cavity surrounding the heart, and the epicardium, the layer of tissue closest to the heart. In a recent study, researchers hypothesized that endurance and resistance exercise would be an effective method to reduce fat around the heart. The results of this research were published in JAMA Cardiology.

The study looked at the best ways to get rid of fat around the heart, this included both endurance and resistance exercise and how much heart fat each was able to reduce. Both epicardial fat and pericardial fat surrounding the heart were tested.

To be included in the study individuals had to be at least 18 years old, inactive, and have a waist to height ratio greater than 0.5, indicating abdominal obesity. Various cardiac comorbidities excluded individuals from participating. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: endurance exercise, resistance exercise, or no exercise. Before and during the trial, participants had cardiorespiratory and anthropomorphic measures taken, as well as cardiac fat measurements. Three times per week for 12 weeks participants in the endurance exercise groups used a stationary bicycle to perform 45-minute high-intensity interval training, while those in the resistance group completed repeated medium load exercises for 45 minutes.

Endurance and resistance exercise reduce fat around the heart

Epicardial fat was reduced in participants in the endurance and resistance exercise groups by up to 9g respectively, whereas there were no changes among the no-exercise group. Compared to the no-exercise group, pericardial fat was reduced by 34g in the resistance exercise group, but no significant changes were observed in the endurance exercise group.

Both cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength were increased in the resistance exercise group, whereas in the endurance exercise only cardiorespiratory fitness increased, and no changes were observed in regards to muscle strength.

Both resistance and endurance were shown to reduce fat surrounding the heart, but only resistance training reduced pericardial fat. The results suggest that the best way to remove fat around the heart is through resistance training, which targets two types of heart fat.

Unfortunately, the small sample size (39 participants) limits the ability to generalize the results, meaning that additional research including more participants would provide better insight into how exercise affects fat around the heart.

Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Christensen, R.H., Wedell-Neergaard, A.S., Lehrskov, L.L., Legaard, G.E., Dorph, E., Larsen, M.K.,…& Ellingsgaard, H. (2019). Effect of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise on Cardiac Adipose Tissues Secondary Analyses From a Randomized Clinical Trial.
JAMA Cardiology. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamacardio.2019.2074.

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