But a new study shows that dieting alone won’t give you the live-longer benefits you net from working out.
Researchers sifted through 117 studies showing the effect of diet and exercise on both weight loss and visceral fat (or VAT, short for visceral adipose tissue). VAT is the fat stored in your abdominal area surrounding your vital organs, and it’s a strong predictor for morbidity and mortality.
The researchers found that both exercise and diet cause VAT loss (hooray!). But when they compared the two, healthy eating alone led to a larger amount of weight loss, while exercise was associated with greater VAT loss.
You might be thinking, “So what? I want to lose weight!” But it’s important to note that VAT fat is more dangerous than the “fluffy” layer on your thighs:
It can affect your liver’s ability to manage cholesterol, increase your risk of heart disease, and make you more susceptible to diabetes, according to Pamela Peeke, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, author of Body for Life for Women, and a FITNESS advisory board member.
And while it seems like weight loss and VAT reduction would go hand in hand, the researchers say total-body weight loss doesn’t necessarily reflect changes in VAT.
This is just another reason to stop focusing on the scale, as the researchers say weight loss alone may not be an accurate measure when evaluating the benefits of a lifestyle change.
(Just think of all the people you know who carry a little extra weight but totally crush it in boot-camp class—it’s possible to be fat but fit.) So instead, zone in on how fit you are and make those workouts count.