Br J Sports Med 43:924-927 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.065557
  • Original article

Beneficial effects of exercise: shifting the focus from body weight to other markers of health

  1. N A King1,
  2. M Hopkins2,
  3. P Caudwell3,
  4. R J Stubbs4,
  5. J E Blundell3
  1. 1
    Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
  2. 2
    Department of Health and Exercise Science, Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds, UK
  3. 3
    Biopsychology Group, Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  4. 4
    Slimming World, Clover Nook Road, Somercotes, Alfreton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr N King, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 4059, QLD, Australia; n.king{at}
  • Accepted 24 August 2009
  • Published Online First 29 September 2009


Background: Exercise is widely promoted as a method of weight management, while the other health benefits are often ignored. The purpose of this study was to examine whether exercise-induced improvements in health are influenced by changes in body weight.

Methods: Fifty-eight sedentary overweight/obese men and women (BMI 31.8 (SD 4.5) kg/m2) participated in a 12-week supervised aerobic exercise intervention (70% heart rate max, five times a week, 500 kcal per session). Body composition, anthropometric parameters, aerobic capacity, blood pressure and acute psychological response to exercise were measured at weeks 0 and 12.

Results: The mean reduction in body weight was −3.3 (3.63) kg (p<0.01). However, 26 of the 58 participants failed to attain the predicted weight loss estimated from individuals’ exercise-induced energy expenditure. Their mean weight loss was only −0.9 (1.8) kg (p<0.01). Despite attaining a lower-than-predicted weight reduction, these individuals experienced significant increases in aerobic capacity (6.3 (6.0) ml/kg/min; p<0.01), and a decreased systolic (−6.00 (11.5) mm Hg; p<0.05) and diastolic blood pressure (−3.9 (5.8) mm Hg; p<0.01), waist circumference (−3.7 (2.7) cm; p<0.01) and resting heart rate (−4.8 (8.9) bpm, p<0.001). In addition, these individuals experienced an acute exercise-induced increase in positive mood.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that significant and meaningful health benefits can be achieved even in the presence of lower-than-expected exercise-induced weight loss. A less successful reduction in body weight does not undermine the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise. From a public health perspective, exercise should be encouraged and the emphasis on weight loss reduced.


  • Parts of these data were presented at BASES in UK, 2006, and at the 9th ICO in Australia, 2006.

  • Funding This study forms part of a larger project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBS/B/05079).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by University of Leeds Ethics Committtee.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

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