You don’t have to do endless sit-ups to blast belly fat, but when starting an exercise programme, waist measurements trump the scale…

Research has found that, when you exercise, a signalling molecule called interleukin-6 works to reduce belly fat.

After following a 12-week long cycling exercise programme, obese adults lost notable amounts of belly fat, also known as visceral abdominal fat.

“The take home for the general audience is ‘do exercise’,” says first author Anne-Sophie Wedell-Neergaard of the University of Copenhagen. “We all know that exercise promotes better health, and now we also know that regular exercise training reduces abdominal fat mass and thereby potentially also the risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases.”

Wedell-Neergaard and co-senior study author Helga Ellingsgaard of the University of Copenhagen suspected that interleukin-6 could play an important role because it regulates energy metabolism, stimulates the breakdown of fats in healthy people, and is released from skeletal muscle during exercise.

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Putting the exercise theory to the test

To test this idea, the researchers carried out a 12-week, single-centre trial in which they randomly assigned abdominally obese adults to four groups.

Participants received intravenous infusions of either tocilizumab, a drug that blocks interleukin-6 signalling, or saline as a placebo every four weeks, combined with no exercise or a bicycle routine consisting of several 45-minute sessions each week.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to assess visceral fat tissue mass at the beginning and end of the study.

In the placebo groups, exercise reduced visceral fat tissue mass by an average of 225 grams, compared with no exercise. But tocilizumab treatment eliminated this effect.

In the exercise groups, tocilizumab also increased visceral fat tissue mass by approximately 278 grams compared with placebo. In addition, tocilizumab increased total cholesterol and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol compared with placebo, in both the exercise and no-exercise groups.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that interleukin-6 has a physiological role in regulating visceral fat mass in humans,” Wedell-Neergaard says.

Why you may gain weight while exercising

While the authors note that the study was exploratory and not intended to evaluate a given treatment in a clinical setting, they have a practical tip about exercise and weight loss:

“It is important to stress that, when you start exercising, you may increase body weight due to increased muscle mass,” Wedell-Neergaard says. “So, in addition to measuring your overall body weight, it would be useful, and maybe more important, to measure waist circumference to keep track of the loss of visceral fat mass and to stay motivated.”

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Source: Cell Press via

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