Bring it to Barb

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Dear Barb,

I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life and I recently heard that exercise, more than diet, helps reduce the actual size of fat cells. Could this be true? I eat healthy but I hate exercise.

Signed,
Dreading Workouts

Dear Dreading Workouts,

Here are a few interesting facts:

1.) Fat cells are created when we gain weight.

2.) Fat cells also shrink, but don’t die.

Scientists once thought that we could only grow new fat cells during certain stages of our life; such as the first year of life and puberty and for women during menopause as well. It now has changed and we can create new fat cells as adults too!

If you’ve gained a lot of weight as an adult, you may have added to your store of fat cells. That makes it harder to lose weight because, once they’ve taken up residence in your body, fat cells never go away.

This is how it works. When a fat cell grows to about three times its normal size, it can divide and make new fat cells. How much fat a cell can handle before it divides varies from person to person. You can shrink the size of your fat cells but you can’t shrink the number.

If you have more than your fair share of fat cells, it’s going to be more of an uphill battle for you to lose weight than for someone with fewer fat cells.

To answer your question, there was a research study on the effects of diet and exercise on fat cell size at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. They recently discovered that exercise, perhaps more than diet, can help reduce the size of fat cells that accumulate around the waist.

Forty-five obese women were divided into three study groups. One group followed a calorie-restricted diet with no exercise; the second group followed a calorie-restricted diet and walked at a moderate pace three times a week. The third group followed the diet and walked at a more intense pace three times a week.

They all lost weight, reduced their overall percentage of body fat, and reduced the size of fat cells in their hips. However, those who used diet alone did not shrink the fat cells located around their waist, while both exercise groups shrunk their waistline fat cells by 18 percent.

Ditch the ugly, dreaded word “exercise” and trade it for the word “busy.” Replace “I’m working out” with “I’m keeping busy.” Since it appears that physical activity is necessary in order to shrink the fat cells around the waist, just staying “busy” would be effective. This means that instead of folding your laundry while sitting down, you would stand. When you first attempt to do more standing and moving, you’ll notice that you’ll have a propensity to sit. When a song comes on the radio you like, get a little hip sway going and dance a little to the beat. By bending and stretching while gardening, washing windows, washing your car, or playing with your children or grandkids, it all counts! Keep moving so you don’t allow any of those fat cells to divide because it’s true: Exercise does indeed shrink fat cells.

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