Exercising gently for just one month can have significant positive effect on fitness according to a new study from the University of Birmingham.

The team from the University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences found that the equivalent of three hours brisk walking each week improved the rate at which the body uses fat (fat oxidation) by 44% within a month. The same exercise programme increased the body’s sensitivity to insulin by a quarter.

The pilot study, which looked at obese middle aged men, also showed that moderate exercise like brisk walking was more effective in burning fat than short bursts of high intensity exercise like running.

The study appears in the current edition of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Dr Michelle Venables explains: “Fat oxidation and insulin sensitivity are two processes that are usually disturbed in obese sedentary individuals.  The result of which can be the development of diabetes, so having a healthy sensitivity to insulin is very important. Exercise leads to an improvement of both fat oxidation and insulin sensitivity which simply means that the muscles are using fat and taking up glucose effectively.

Although this is a small study, the improvements generated by moderate exercise in these two areas were very pronounced and rapid. It is also worth noting that these improvements were not linked to changes in participants body weight or body fat. This reinforces the message that we can still get benefits from exercise with out loosing weight.”

In the study, obese, but otherwise healthy men, performed two four week blocks of endurance training, either at a moderate intensity (like brisk walking), designed to encourage fat burning or more intensive interval training. The team measured of each subjects’ maximum oxygen uptake during exercise (VO2 max) and detailed measurements of levels of glucose and insulin in the blood.   

Dr Venables adds: "If we are to tackle the problems of obesity, we must give people achievable exercise goals. If we can show that gentle exercise can be effective in improving fitness and tackling the early signs of diabetes it gives an added motivation for people to increase their levels of physical activity.The kind of programme we used in this study is something that almost anyone could follow without feeling like they were training too hard.”


Media information: For more information contact or to request a copy of the paper: Ben Hill, Press Office, University of Birmingham: Tel 0121 4145134, Mob: 07789 921 163

The full title of the paper is, Endurance Training and Obesity: Effect on Substrate Metabolism and Insulin Sensitivity. It appears in the current edition of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise

Notes to Editor:

Original Thinking at Birmingham

From 1900 to present day, the University of Birmingham has enhanced the well-being of our country - and beyond - through its original thinking.

Birmingham is a centre of research excellence. Its research has been impacting on people's lives for more than a century and it continues to lead the way in breakthroughs and innovations. These include:

1937 creating vitamin C tablets  2008 developing cancer vaccines

1912 first UK course in oil mining  2008 cleaner fuels

1960 Developing pacemakers  2008 tackling global obesity

The University is a truly vibrant, global community and an internationally-renowned institution. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than four thousand international students from nearly 150 different countries.

The University plays an integral role in the economic, social and cultural growth of local and regional communities; working closely with businesses and organisations, employing approximately 6,000 staff and providing 10,000 graduates annually.  The University contributes £662 million to the City of Birmingham and £779 million to the West Midlands region, with an annual income of more than £388.6 million. In 2005, new graduates accounted for almost 60% of the new workers in the City with a degree or higher-level qualification. 44 % of our graduates take up their first employment in the Region.