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Am J Epidemiol. 1997 Apr 15;145(8):752-61.

Total and sports activity in older men and women: relation with body fat distribution.

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Department of Human Nutrition, Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.


Physical activity is reported to be inversely associated with abdominal fat in young and middle-aged populations, which may in part explain its beneficial effect on health. However, it is unclear whether this inverse association exists in older people. The authors investigated the relation of total and sports activity with fat distribution in a population-based sample of 1,163 men and 1,154 women aged 55-85 years, representative of the Dutch elderly population in 1992-1993. Waist and hip circumference and their ratio (WHR) were used as indicators of fat distribution. Physical activity of the previous 2 weeks was obtained by questionnaire. Among men, total physical activity time was negatively associated with waist (98.3 +/- 0.4 cm in the most active quartile vs. 100.5 +/- 0.4 cm in the least active quartile, p = 0.0001 (mean +/- standard error)) and WHR (0.98 +/- 0.00 vs. 0.99 +/- 0.00, p = 0.005) after adjustment for age, education level, body mass index, smoking, and season of the year. This association was not observed among women. Men and women who participated in sports activity had a smaller waist and WHR than those who did not. After adjustment, the time spent on sports activity was negatively associated with waist (p = 0.004 for men and p = 0.07 for women) and WHR (p = 0.03 for men and p = 0.09 for women) in both sexes. No relation between total physical activity time and body fat distribution was observed among respondents who were not participating in any sports activity (p > or = 0.17), suggesting that performance of activities of low/moderate intensity has no effect on body fat distribution. No associations with hip circumference were observed. The results did not change after additional adjustment for chronic illness. The results of this large-scale study show that physical activity, and specifically intensive activity, is negatively associated with abdominal fat in older people.

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