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Rigorous Exercise can Increase Stress Levels for Obese People

Update Date: May 13, 2014 03:52 PM EDT
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Obesity is a chronic disease that can increase one's risk of health complications ranging from stroke to cardiovascular disease. Obese and overweight patients are recommended to eat healthier while exercising. Even through exercise can help with weight loss, a new study found that rigorous physical exercise can also increase stress levels for obese people in particular.

"It's often said obese people should change their diet and exercise to lose weight. But they may also need to deal with stress," stated lead author of the study, Brynjar Foss, an associate professor in the Department of Health Studies at the University of Stavanger (UiS).

For this study, the researchers recruited 17 people with sedentary lifestyles and 18 people with active lifestyles to act as the control group. The inactive participants enrolled in a 22-week program designed to change their habits by incorporating exercise, diet and seminars. At the end of the program, the researchers reported that even though the participants lost weight, it was not as much as the researchers had hoped.

The team then examined the participants' cortisol levels to measure stress. They found that the participants' stress levels rose during the study as they lost weight. Cortisol levels were still elevated when the researchers measured them six months after the program had ended. The researchers believe that these elevated stress levels could explain why weight loss was limited. The participants who experienced the most weight loss had the lowest levels of cortisol when it was measured during the morning time. The researchers added that even if weight loss was not as large as predicted, being physically active can improve overall quality of life.

"If you're physically active, you can be in good health even if you're overweight," said physiotherapist Martha Loland, who conducted the study for her MSc in health science at the UiS, reported by Medical Xpress. "The chances of suffering cardio-vascular disease are smaller for obese people who exercise than for those who don't make any effort to keep fit."

The study, "Exercise Can Alter Cortisol Responses in Obese Subjects," was published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology.

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