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Effects of a High vs Moderate Volume of Aerobic Exercise on Adiposity Outcomes in Postmenopausal Women

A Randomized Clinical Trial 

Body fat increases postmenopausal breast cancer risk. Physical activity may decrease risk through adiposity changes, but the optimal dose of activity is unknown.

The authors set out to compare the effects of 300 vs 150 min/wk of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise on body fat in postmenopausal women.

The Breast Cancer and Exercise Trial in Alberta was a 12-month, 2-armed, 2-center randomized dose-comparison trial conducted from June 2010 through June 2013. Participants were 400 inactive postmenopausal women with body mass index 22 to 40, disease-free, nonsmokers, and nonusers of exogenous hormones.

Five d/wk of aerobic exercise (3 d/wk supervised, 2 d/wk unsupervised) for 30 min/session (moderate-volume) or 60 min/session (high volume) achieving 65% to 75% of heart rate reserve for at least 50% of each session. Participants were asked not to change usual diet.

Total body fat, measured from dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scans, was the primary outcome. Other measures included subcutaneous and intra-abdominal fat from computed tomography scans, weight, and waist and hip circumferences.

Of 400 women, 384 provided baseline and follow-up adiposity measurements. Median (interquartile range) adherence at full prescription for the high- and moderate-volume groups was 254 (166-290) and 137 (111-150) min/wk, respectively. Mean reductions in total fat were significantly larger in the high- vs moderate-volume group (least-squares mean difference, -1.0% [95% CI, -1.6% to -0.4%], P = .002). Subcutaneous abdominal fat and waist to hip ratio decreased significantly more in the high-volume group (least-squares mean difference, -10.8 [95% CI, -19.5 to -2.2] cm2, P = .01, and -0.01 [95% CI, -0.02 to 0.00], P = .04, respectively). Changes in weight and intra-abdominal fat were not significantly different between groups (least-squares mean difference, -0.7 [95% CI, -1.6 to 0.2] kg, P = .11, and -1.5 [95% CI, -5.9 to 2.9] cm2, P = .50, respectively). Some dose-response effects were stronger for obese women.

In previously inactive postmenopausal women, a 1-year prescription of moderate to vigorous exercise for 300 min/wk was superior to 150 min/wk for reducing total fat and other adiposity measures, especially in obese women. These results suggest additional benefit of higher-volume aerobic exercise for adiposity outcomes and possibly a lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.


Friedenreich CM, Neilson HK, O'Reilly R, Duha A, Yasui Y, Morielli AR, Adams SC, Courneya KS. Effects of a High vs Moderate Volume of Aerobic Exercise on Adiposity Outcomes in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Oncol. 2015 Jul 16. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.2239. [Epub ahead of print]

Content updated 27 July 2015


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