You Should Probably Be Lifting Weights

Large man lifting weights
Photo: Peter Muller/Corbis

Because it’s the time of year during which we think about such things, let’s consider your belly fat for a minute. Cruelly, belly fat is not only unattractive to look at, it’s potentially lethal, too: Studies have linked visceral fat to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. 

What to do about it? A new report published in the journal Obesity suggests that aerobic exercise isn’t enough; you’ve got to lift weights, too. Rania Mekary, a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health, found in a large, long-term study that men who did 20 minutes of weight training a day gained less abdominal fat than men who increased their aerobic activity. More on Mekary’s research, according to the release:

Mekary and colleagues studied the physical activity, waist circumference (in centimeters (cm)), and body weight of 10,500 healthy U.S. men aged 40 and over participating in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study between 1996 and 2008. Their analysis included a comparison of changes in participants’ activity levels over the 12-year period to see which activities had the most effect on the men’s waistlines. Those who increased the amount of time spent in weight training by 20 minutes a day had less gain in their waistline (-0.67 cm) compared with men who similarly increased the amount of time they spent on moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise (-0.33 cm), and yard work or stair climbing (-0.16 cm). 

Previous research on women, ages 24 to 44, produced similar results. Though, did you catch the part about weight training resulting in less gain to their waistlines? In other words, a pudgy waist is probably coming for you with middle age, but the evidence shows weight training can at least make your future waist less pudgy than it might’ve been.