Fat chance

There may be an effective way to help manage your triglyceride levels without drugs, without dietary changes, without supplements, and – best of all – it’s easy and it’s free.

Now don’t run out of the room when I tell you what it is. Because a new study shows that the way you exercise (there, I said it – still with me?) may make a significant difference in the way your body metabolizes triglycerides. And the good news is that the easy way to exercise may actually be the best way.

That’s right: Easy does it.

Coming to terms

Most HSI members are probably aware of the importance of keeping triglyceride levels down. Triglyceride is a naturally occurring organic compound in the blood that’s derived from dietary fats. It’s also created in the body from various energy sources such as carbohydrates. When triglyceride binds to carrier proteins, lipoproteins are created that may leave fat deposits in coronary arteries. In recent years, several studies have shown that high triglyceride levels sharply increase heart disease risk.

Which brings us to postprandial lipemia; a condition that occurs when triglycerides, cholesterol and other blood fats rise after eating a meal that’s extremely rich in fats and not balanced by other types of food. Heart disease risk may rise when postprandial lipemia becomes chronic.

Because research has shown that exercise can help manage blood fat levels after eating, researchers at Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU) designed a study to examine the effects of two different types of exercise on postprandial lipemia.

The milk shake test

As reported in the current issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers recruited 29 “inactive” males and females in their mid-20s. Each subject participated in three phases of the trial. During one phase, a period of 30 minutes of continuous exercise was followed up with a high fat meal 12 hours later. The “meal” consisted of a milk shake with heavy whipped cream that contained 1.5 grams of fat per kilogram of body weight.

During another phase, the exercise period was again 30 minutes, but divided into three 10-minute sessions with a break of at least 20 minutes between each session. Again, the milk shake meal followed 12 hours later. And during the final phase, there was no exercise at all – just a period of inactivity, followed by the milk shake.

Blood fat levels were measured five times: before each high fat meal, and at two, four, six and eight hours after each meal. For each subject, the three phases of the trial were separated by at least seven days and were performed in random order.

The result: Cholesterol levels had very little statistical difference throughout the three phases. But the rise in triglycerides following the high fat meal was significantly lower during the phase using intermittent exercise, when compared to both no exercise and continuous exercise.

Researchers concluded that a single session of intermittent exercise may be more effective than continuous exercise in managing postprandial lipemia.

Push that strolling pace

Larger studies will be needed to confirm the findings of the SMSU trial. Nevertheless, the SMSU results are promising for those whose lives are too hectic to carve out a chunk of 30+ minutes each day for exercise.

Dr. Thomas S. Altena of SMSU told Reuters Health that while the key is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, those who break up the half hour into three short sessions of moderately intense exercise may actually be doing their heart more good than by getting their 30 minutes all at once.

He emphasized that a “slow stroll” is not sufficient, but three short, brisk walks may be all that’s needed to boost cardiovascular benefits.

Give it some muscle

Or you could do some weight lifting, which could add even more benefits to a heart-supportive workout regimen.

In the e-Alert “Muscle Up” (2/12/04), I told you about the importance of doing exercises (such as weight training or resistance training) that are designed to strengthen muscles. This type of exercise yields several benefits, including reducing the risk of falls and fractures, promoting healthy bone density, and improving insulin sensitivity.

And while weight training increases muscle strength, older people get another benefit: prevention of sarcopenia – the age-related loss of skeletal muscle.

A recent report from the International Longevity Center-USA, details a variety of studies of subjects aged 60 to 96 who overcame the loss of strength and body mass associated with sarcopenia by using weight training regimens that lasted from 8 to 12 weeks. In as little as two sessions a week, most subjects increased their strength while also improving balance and mobility.

The results from these and other exercise studies never vary: Those who get up and get moving tend to live longer and healthier.

But easy does it.


“Single Sessions of Intermittent and Continuous Exercise and Postprandial Lipemia” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol. 36, No. 8, August 2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
“Exercise Spurts may Improve Blood Fats” Merritt McKinney, Reuters Health, 8/16/04, reutershealth.com “Growing Older, Staying Strong: Preventing Sarcopenia Through Strength Training” International Longevity Center – USA, Issue Brief, September-October, 2003, ilcusa.org