Harvard Men's Health Watch

Moderate- and high-intensity workout both burn belly fat

What's better for you: moderate but prolonged exercise, or a shorter but more intense workout? A recent study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that both levels of exercise will help you lose about the same amount of belly fat if you burn the same number of calories. But only high-intensity exercise helped control blood sugar levels.

In the study, 300 people with abdominal obesity walked and jogged on treadmills at a moderate or high intensity, burning equivalent numbers of calories. The 217 people who stuck through the study for the entire six months lost on average 1.75 inches from their waistlines—about 5% to 6% of body weight. It made no difference whether they huffed through the higher-intensity workout or the more moderate regimen.

However, only those who followed the high-intensity workout showed an improvement in glucose tolerance, which reflects how quickly the body metabolizes blood sugar. People with diabetes have more difficulty returning blood glucose to healthy levels after eating and may have to take medications or otherwise compensate. The researchers noted that it's unknown how much of a health benefit a person could expect from the modest 9% improvement in glucose tolerance seen in this study.

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