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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Jan;49(1):206-217.

Effects of Weight Loss on Lean Mass, Strength, Bone, and Aerobic Capacity.

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1Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO; 2Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO; 3Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO; 4Division of Endocrinology, School of Medicine, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO; and 5Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Baylor College of Medicine and Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, TX.



This study aimed to evaluate the hypothesis that exercise attenuates the reductions in lean mass, muscle strength, bone mineral density, and V˙O2max that accompany modest weight loss induced by calorie restriction (CR).


Overweight, sedentary women and men (n = 52, 45-65 yr) were randomized to 6%-8% weight loss by using CR, endurance exercise training (EX), or both (CREX). The CR and the CREX groups underwent counseling to reduce energy intake by 20% and 10%, respectively. The EX and the CREX groups exercised 7.4 ± 0.5 and 4.4 ± 0.5 h·wk, respectively. Before and after 16.8 ± 1.1 wk of weight loss, lean mass and bone mineral density were measured with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, strength was measured with dynamometry, and aerobic capacity (V˙O2max) was measured with indirect calorimetry during maximal-intensity treadmill exercise.


Weight loss was ~7% in all groups. Decreases in whole-body (~2%, P = 0.003) and lower extremity (~4%, P < 0.0001) lean mass occurred in the CR group (both P < 0.05). Despite similar weight loss, these reductions were attenuated in the CREX group (~1%, P = 0.44 and ~2%, P = 0.05, respectively) and absent in the EX group. Absolute aerobic capacity decreased ~6% in the CR group (P = 0.04), was unchanged in the CREX group (P = 0.28), and increased ~15% in the EX group (P < 0.0001). No changes in muscle strength or bone were observed.


Modest weight loss (~7%) induced by 20% CR in overweight women and men decreases lean mass and reduces absolute V˙O2max. Exercise protects against these effects. Although the CR-induced changes might be considered physiologically appropriate for a reduced body weight, exercise preserves and/or improves these parameters during weight loss, which likely improves physical function. These findings support the notion of using exercise as an important component of weight loss programs.


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