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Exercise a Cure for the Belly Fat Blues

Belly fat isn’t only bad for the heart—it may be giving people the blues as well. However, moderate exercise, even a walk around the block, can help you fight back and feel better.

A study at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, published in the May issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, linked depression among middle-age women with the accumulation of visceral fat—the kind packed between internal organs at the waist.

“We’ve long known that depression and heart disease are related, but until now there’s really not been an explanation as to why,” says cardiovascular epidemiologist Lynda Powell, the study’s lead author and chair of Rush’s Department of Preventive Medicine. Powell says this study may help explain the link between depression and heart disease in both women and men, because visceral fat is associated with increased heart disease risk.

Powell’s team looked at the connection between depression and visceral fat in 400 women between ages 42 and 52 and found a strong correlation, particularly among overweight and obese women. Powell says that the link between belly fat and depression goes beyond feeling sad or depressed because of body image: There appears to be a chemical connection.

In another study, on mice, researchers at the University of Illinois looked at inflammation in belly fat, which has been shown to be an independent predictor for disease, to see whether exercise or diet would be more effective in reducing both the inflammation and the levels of fat. They found that moderate exercise worked just as well as a low-fat diet in reducing inflammation, if not weight. That’s important. “If you’re exercising or dieting and not losing weight, you still may be getting benefits,” says nutritional scientist Victoria Vieira, lead author of the study, which was published in the May issue of American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Exercise scientist Andrea Dunn, a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine, says the two studies reinforce that exercise can improve both depression and inflammation.

“It doesn’t have to be onerous,” Powell says. “Instead of sitting down in front of a TV after dinner, get up and take a walk with your husband. Or start taking dancing lessons. Little things like that can have a profound effect.”

New York-based writer John Hanc writes about fitness and active sports.

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