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ECU study finds exercise after bariatric surgery improves health

Dec. 5, 2014

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services


People who exercise following bariatric surgery gain health benefits beyond weight loss, according to researchers at East Carolina University, the University of Pittsburgh and Florida Hospital – Sanford-Burnham Translational Research for Institute and Diabetes Institute.

“This is really the first clinical trial to look at the effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity and other risk factors following bariatric surgery,” said Dr. Joe Houmard, professor of kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Performance, director of ECU’s Human Performance Lab and principal investigator of the new study at ECU. “It shows even with huge weight loss that exercise can make you healthier. If you want optimal benefits, you need to be physically active.”
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Dr. Joseph Houmard, College of Health and Human Performance

The joint study, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, involved 119 people who recently had Roux-en-Y bypass bariatric surgery. The weight loss surgery is the most common metabolic surgery performed in the United States. One group of patients participated in an intensive education program after surgery while a second group incorporated 120 minutes of exercise each week with education.

Compared to the education group, those who exercised showed significant improvement in insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. Low insulin sensitivity and poor glucose metabolism are associated with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Both are common in pre-diabetes, meaning a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal but not enough to be classified as diabetes.

The exercise group also showed notable improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, which reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer and stroke.

Although both groups lost weight – about 50 pounds – as a result of bariatric surgery, there were no differences in the total amount of weight loss between the two groups in the 24-week study.

“Importantly, our study showed that aerobic exercise is feasible in this population—a result that directly counters the perception that severely obese individuals cannot respond to lifestyle interventions,” said Dr. Bret Goodpaster, director of the Exercise Metabolism Core and professor at Sandford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, in a news release. “We look forward to additional studies to determine the optimal amount and type of exercise that produces the best physiological results.”

The study was done in collaboration with the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Department of Medicine, Department of Health and Physical Activity, and the Department of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Kinesiology at ECU.

ECU faculty members Chuck Tanner and Gabe Dubis were co-authors on the paper and registered nurse Angela Clark assisted with the study.

“ECU has long been involved in research with exercise and gastric bypass and hopefully we’re now making another contribution to treating the obesity epidemic,” Houmard said.

Research by another ECU faculty member, Dr. Walter Pories, who developed the “Greenville Gastric Bypass,” shows conclusively that not only does the surgery result in durable weight loss but also causes a long-term remission of type 2 diabetes in patients who undergo the surgery.