Digestive Woes May Keep the Overweight From Exercising

And that could undermine weight-loss efforts, study finds

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TUESDAY, Dec. 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- While exercise is often recommended for overweight people as part of a weight-loss program, digestive problems that affect them may hamper their ability to exercise.

That finding by U.S. researchers appears in a study in the current issue of the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The study of 983 overweight or obese men and women in Minnesota concluded that links between gastrointestinal (GI) problems and diet and exercise may affect treatment for both obesity and gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

"Our main finding is that the amount of exercise people in weight loss programs do is related to gastrointestinal symptoms," study lead author Rona Levy, a psychologist and professor of social work at the University of Washington.

"In statistical terms, this means exercise is protective against gastrointestinal symptoms. This isn't surprising, but it has not been demonstrated before with this population. Science has now validated what people have been guessing," she said.

"But we don't know if this is a 'did the chicken or the egg come first?' kind of thing. We are not sure which is the key, exercise or gastrointestinal symptoms. It is plausible that if a physician put a patient on an exercise program to lose weight, the GI problems experienced might hamper the patient's ability to exercise," Levy said.

The GI problems experienced by the people in the study included abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and bloating. The more people weighed, the more likely they were to report problems. People who started to reduce their fat intake and increase their fiber intake by eating more fruits and vegetables reported lower levels of GI symptoms, the study found.

"This study is another argument for exercise. Even though anyone engaging in a weight-loss program should know that gastrointestinal symptoms may impede their ability to exercise, those symptoms may also be alleviated by exercise," Levy said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about weight control.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, Dec. 8, 2005

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