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Do You Have “Exercise Resistance”?

New research demonstrates adverse impact on fat metabolism even when lifestyle includes exercise.

Woman walking outside

Aim to move at every chance you get, not only during scheduled workouts. Why? Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that if overall daily activity levels are too low—even if you exercise during the day—the body becomes less efficient at “burning” (i.e., metabolizing) fat, causing more of it to be stored. This phenomenon is called “exercise resistance.” What this means is that too much inactivity hampers the normal improvement in fat oxidation that occurs after exercise.

Investigators wanted to know what range of daily step counts stimulates the exercise resistance effect. They found that after 2 days of step reduction to approximately 2,500–5,000 steps per day, young, healthy individuals “displayed a 16%–19% decrease in fat oxidation and a 22%–23% increase [in post-meal blood triglyceride levels] the next day.” Study authors concluded that this “suggests that ‘exercise resistance’ occurs in individuals taking approximately 5,000 or fewer steps per day, whereas 8,500 steps per day protects against exercise resistance in fat metabolism.” Future research will examine what the best timing for those steps should be throughout the day.

An important insight is that inactivity influences fat metabolism more powerfully than exercise does. In other words, prolonged sitting blunts the benefits of exercise. So, it may be time to set the goal to move more throughout the day and avoid inactivity, in addition to promoting planned physical activity.

The study is available in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2021; 53 [2], 333–40).

See also: Addressing Exercise Barriers

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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