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BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018 May 4;10:7. doi: 10.1186/s13102-018-0097-1. eCollection 2018.

Abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome: exercise as medicine?

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1Research & Development (Ward 12), Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, Skipton Road, Steeton, Keighley, West Yorkshire BD20 6TD UK.
2School of Clinical and Applied Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, Portland Building, City Campus, Leeds, LS1 3HE UK.



Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of at least three out of five clinical risk factors: abdominal (visceral) obesity, hypertension, elevated serum triglycerides, low serum high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and insulin resistance. It is estimated to affect over 20% of the global adult population. Abdominal (visceral) obesity is thought to be the predominant risk factor for metabolic syndrome and as predictions estimate that 50% of adults will be classified as obese by 2030 it is likely that metabolic syndrome will be a significant problem for health services and a drain on health economies.Evidence shows that regular and consistent exercise reduces abdominal obesity and results in favourable changes in body composition. It has therefore been suggested that exercise is a medicine in its own right and should be prescribed as such.

Purpose of this review:

This review provides a summary of the current evidence on the pathophysiology of dysfunctional adipose tissue (adiposopathy). It describes the relationship of adiposopathy to metabolic syndrome and how exercise may mediate these processes, and evaluates current evidence on the clinical efficacy of exercise in the management of abdominal obesity. The review also discusses the type and dose of exercise needed for optimal improvements in health status in relation to the available evidence and considers the difficulty in achieving adherence to exercise programmes.


There is moderate evidence supporting the use of programmes of exercise to reverse metabolic syndrome although at present the optimal dose and type of exercise is unknown. The main challenge for health care professionals is how to motivate individuals to participate and adherence to programmes of exercise used prophylactically and as a treatment for metabolic syndrome.


Abdominal obesity; Adiposopathy; Exercise medicine; Metabolic syndrome

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have no competing interests to declare.Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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