December 26, 1995
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST
From Medical Correspondent Jeff Levine
BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Diet works better than exercise to cut the risk of heart disease, according to a study of middle-aged men. But the researchers say that doesn't excuse becoming a couch potato.
Dr. Leslie Katzel of the University of Maryland and his colleagues at the Department of Veterans Affairs undertook the study to resolve the ongoing controversy over whether dieting or exercise is the best strategy for preventing heart disease.
The overweight, inactive middle-aged men involved in the study found the nine-month diet they were placed on was literally no picnic. "When you sit down at the table and you see people there with a chocolate sundae or a piece of strawberry shortcake, your tongue hangs down to your ankles almost," said William Kamberger, a study participant.
The idea was for Kamberger and the others to lose more than 10 percent of their body weight, and then compare them to men who exercised on a regular basis but didn't diet. It turned out that dieting was better at controlling two contributors to heart disease: cholesterol levels and blood pressure. "We can roughly calculate that we reduce their risk of heart disease by about 40 percent," Katzel said.
Those in the exercise group were told not to lose weight, but only boost their level of activity. Although a benefit was observed in the exercise group, it was not as much as that seen among the dieters.
But Katzel says that does not mean it's OK to just sit around. "As people get older, they become more sedentary and they tend to put weight on in their abdominal region," he said. "To really keep that weight off, and to keep a happy, healthy lifestyle, you really need to watch your diet and exercise."
The results are being reported in the current Journal of the American Medical Association, along with another study about fat. It suggests that extra weight throughout the body, not just concentrated around the middle, can also be dangerous to the heart.
Since the study was done on relatively healthy men, more information is being gathered on women and the chronically ill.
Further studies at the Department of Veterans Affairs hope to fine tune the relationship between diet and exercise. However, the message to take away from the study is that pushing away that extra portion at the dinner table may well be the best work-out you can give your heart.
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