Don't Miss

The Fire Is In The Fat


Exercise can help to mitigate inflammation caused by excess visceral fat.

“Chronic low-grade inflammation has been implicated in the etiology of a number of disease conditions, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” according to the article “Role of Exercise on Inflammation and Chronic Disease” in the August 2014 issue of Strength and Conditioning Journal.

Inflammation can be caused by the act of weight training. Its tear-down/build-up-stronger concept is inflammatory in nature, elevating an acute-phase protein known as C-reactive protein (CRP), and an enzyme known as CPK (creatine phosphokinase), which is found mainly in the heart, brain and skeletal muscle.

Inflammation also can be caused by body fat, specifically excess visceral (abdominal) and subcutaneous (below-the-surface) body fat. The good news is that exercise can help to mitigate its damage. Here’s what we know.

Turning Up The Heat

Research has demonstrated that “[adipose tissue] does indeed store excess energy, but it is also an endocrine tissue, releasing an array of paracrine and endocrine substances that reflect a number of processes, including appetite regulation, glucose tolerance, metabolic rate and immune system activity.”

This means that the location of your fat tissue can significantly influence the negative metabolic effects to your body. Excess abdominal fat tends to release more pro-inflammatory substances (e.g., TNF-alpha and IL-6) than subcutaneous fat, while failing to release adequate anti-inflammatory mediators such as adiponectin.

In my Corporate Performance and Wellness Enhancement programs at St. Charles Parish Hospital in a suburb of New Orleans, we measure body composition using the gold standard DXA (dual Xray absorptiometry) scan. The DXA can ascertain body composition based on three body compartments consisting of fat mass, lean mass and bone mass. In addition, it can measure regional tissue in terms of fat percentage and total mass, then break down fat, lean and bone mineral content, and total fat-free content—which would be the sum of lean and bone mineral content.

I have used this test to not only ascertain a client’s health risks due to excessive visceral fat, but also to effect appropriate protein intake by my sports-and-lifestyle dietitian, who will make a protein-intake recommendation based on the number of lean pounds, as opposed to protein intake based on kilograms of scale weight.

From a bodybuilding and a fitness competitor standpoint, this test can provide invaluable information for effective dietary changes, plus identify those individuals at risk for the pro-inflammatory effects of carrying excessive visceral fat.

I’ve seen a direct correlation between an elevated CRP and excess visceral fat, especially in obese men with a waist measurement in excess of 50 inches and in overweight postmenopausal women with waist measurements over 40 inches. This is bad news for overweight people.

PHT to the Rescue

The good news is that visceral fat responds effectively to exercise, which is why my programs for weight management have recommended a form of circuit training known as peripheral heart training (PHT).

PHT alternates exercises between the upper and lower extremities with an aerobic component in transition. For instance, a client would perform a preset vertical chest press for 15 reps (15RM) then walk around the circuit for 30 seconds, followed by a lower-extremity exercise, such as a leg press for 20 reps (20RM).

Clients wear heart-rate monitors and have been tested in our metabolic lab for optimal fat utilization rates based on heart rate. In addition, we use selectorized machines, which allows us to quickly reset weight levels between exercises.

According to research, “muscle produced IL-6 increases over 100-fold during exercise and is paradoxically anti-inflammatory. Therefore, exercise acutely reduces inflammation through contraction—stimulated increases in mediators of inflammation.”

The researchers also note that the dose of exercise necessary to improve inflammatory status seems to be modest. Among other references, “45 minutes of aerobic exercise between 60% and 75 % of maximal heart rate for 5 days per week for 1 year resulted in a reduction of CRP levels in a group of obese postmenopausal women.”

The researchers further state that, “intensity may be an important consideration when employing exercise to address inflammation.”

The Important Role Of Omega-3

I would be remiss by not pointing out the solid research regarding the effectiveness of a Mediterranean diet with an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish and fish oil on reducing chronic inflammation. In a December 2010 article in Nutrition in Clinical Practice, the following conclusion was presented:

“A traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern, which typically has a high ratio of monounsaturated (MUFA) to saturated (SFA) fats and … polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs) and supplies an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, has shown anti-inflammatory effects when compared with typical North American and Northern European dietary patterns in most observational and interventional studies, and may become the diet of choice for diminishing chronic inflammation in clinical practice.”

Based on my own practical experience with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of a triglyceride-based fish oil formula, I have seen firsthand its superior ability to not only reduce elevated CRP levels in my obese clients, but also preserve important HDL protective cholesterol levels, something an ethyl ester formula may not provide.

So the next time you start your exercise session, think about all the positive benefits, such as a reduction of inflammation, you get with each minute of participation. Inflammation is not something you can readily see, but when it’s there, at least you have positive ways to cope.

One of the top trainers in the world, Mackie Shilstone has worked with such sports superstars as Roy Jones Jr., Serena Williams and Bernard Hopkins. You can learn more about Mackie by visiting his website at
Link: Muscle&Body Magazine