Vigorous physical activity to prevent childhood obesity; triceps training
June 2008
Shape Up America! Newsletter

Preventing Childhood Obesity: Vigorous Physical Activity—YES, Restricting Calories—NO*
by Bernard Gutin, PhD
My colleagues and I at the Medical College of Georgia investigated the relationship among diet, physical activity and body composition in 661 African American and white adolescents ages 14 to 18.1 We hypothesized that fatter youths would have higher levels of energy intake and lower levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activity.

To our surprise, we found that higher levels of percent body fat were associated with lower levels of energy intake and lower levels of vigorous (but not moderate) physical activity. Youths who did the most vigorous physical activity and consumed the most calories were the leanest. Those who did no vigorous physical activity had a percent body fat of 28.6 and consumed 1744 calories a day, while those who did at least 1 hour of vigorous physical activity each day had a percent body fat of 19.4 and consumed 2203 calories a day. See Relationship of Vigorous Physical Activity, Caloric Intake and Percent Body Fat.

Although moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, burns calories, we found that lower percent body fat was linked to greater amounts of vigorous, but not to moderate, physical activity. Vigorous activity includes sports, games and dance activities such as running, swimming, soccer and aerobic dancing. These activities impart a significant "mechanical load," which means they work your body's muscles and bones. This type of activity stimulates stem cells to differentiate into bone and muscle rather than fat.2 A healthy body composition in youths requires both a large amount of vigorous physical activity and ingestion of sufficient calories and nutrients to support this tissue-building process.

This idea is further supported by experimental studies that looked at the effect of mostly vigorous physical activity, without restriction of calories, on body composition. Research on youths with varying levels of fatness and fitness found moderate physical activity to be ineffective in preventing obesity, so we conducted studies using 300 to 400 minutes a week of mostly vigorous physical activity and found positive effects on body composition, including reduction of visceral adipose tissue (the fat around abdominal organs). Within the intervention groups, those youths who participated regularly and maintained the highest heart rates during the physical activity sessions showed the greatest decreases in percent body fat and the greatest increases in bone density.3,4

Youths who are obese and unfit can benefit from exercise of relatively low intensity and duration. For example, in obese youths, studies using 155 to 180 minutes per week of physical activity at moderate to high intensity produced favorable reductions of percent body fat and visceral adipose tissue and increases in bone density and aerobic fitness.5 As children improve in fitness, they should be encouraged to progress to higher amounts and intensities of physical activity.

An expert consensus panel has suggested that youths engage in at least 420 minutes a week (about 60 minutes a day) of moderate to vigorous physical activity.6 The research reviewed here suggests that greater emphasis should be given to vigorous rather than moderate physical activity.

Taken together, these findings suggest that a paradigm shift is needed to improve the effectiveness of pediatric obesity prevention interventions. It is well known that eating a nutritious diet supports the development of muscles and bone and other aspects of proper growth and development, as well as good health. However, limiting energy intake runs counter to the biologic demands of growth, which require adequate calories and nutrients. When youths engage in adequate amounts of vigorous physical activity, calories and nutrients are preferentially directed to the production of lean tissue (muscle and bone) rather than fat. So, insuring a high quality diet and plenty of exercise, rather than calorie restriction, is the model to pursue to prevent obesity and improve body composition.

* A longer version of this editorial will soon appear as a Perspective article in the journal Obesity.

Bernard (Bob) Gutin, PhD, is Adjunct Professor of Nutrition at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Professor Emeritus at Teachers College of Columbia University and the Medical College of Georgia.

Triceps — Part III (Chair Dips)
by Michael Roussell
This month we continue our focus on the triceps muscle of the upper arm. The triceps muscle makes up almost 2/3 of the upper arm; the other muscle in the upper arm is the biceps. If you are just beginning to work on your triceps, we suggest that you review Part I and Part II of the upper arm series before moving on to this more difficult exercise. The triceps muscle is often used with the chest and shoulder muscles in a pushing movement. The push up, for example, is a pushing movement. Here, we are going to look at several variations of the bench (or chair) dips, which specifically work the triceps.

To perform bench dips, you will need a sturdy bench that is placed against a wall so that it cannot slip while you perform this exercise. A chair can also be used for this exercise, but my chair is too narrow to allow me to sit on the edge and at the same time grip the front edge of the chair. So I put two chairs together as shown in the picture below. If you don't have a bench, grab a second chair and place them side by side against a wall.

For safety's sake, position the chairs right next to each other and back them up to a wall to insure they will not slip or move as you perform this exercise.

There are two different variations of this exercise, one with your legs bent, which is the beginner position, and another with your legs straight, which is more advanced. To start this movement, you will need to sit on the very edge of the bench and place both hands on the front edge of the bench on either side of your body. Place your hands so your entire palms are on the bench and your fingers are gripping the edge firmly. Next, place your feet together in front of you so that your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the ground. Now you are ready to start the movement.

Slide your rear end off the bench so now only your arms are holding you up. With your elbows pointing backwards, slowly bend your arms and lower your bottom toward the ground—just far enough so that a right angle forms at your elbow joint. Stop at that point and reverse the movement, pushing your hands into the bench and straightening out your arms. When you reach the top of the movement, stop just before you lock your elbows; this will keep your triceps working for the entire movement.

It's important to keep your neck strong as you perform this exercise. Don't let your head go forward, especially when you are in the downward position. Keep your ears positioned squarely over your shoulders for the entire movement.

This movement is very simple but as you will soon see, very effective. To make it more difficult, straighten your legs and stretch them out before you so that only your heels are touching the ground.

Repeat the exercise until you reach the recommended number of sets and reps (repetitions). This will vary depending on your fitness level, as shown below. Perform this exercise once or twice a week.

Beginner 1 set of 10-12 reps Legs are bent
Intermediate 2 sets of 10-12 reps Start with legs bent; after 2-3 months, straighten legs
Advanced 3 sets of 10-12 reps Legs are straight

Note: When you move up a level, you may find it difficult to complete all the reps. That's okay. Go as far as you can and try to add 1 or 2 more reps each workout.

International Walk to School Day
Now is the time to start planning for International Walk to School Day 2008. On October 8 and throughout the month, millions of children around the world will walk or bike to school for a purpose—to promote the health benefits of physical activity, the need for safe places to walk and bike, and concern for the environment. Now in its twelfth year in the US, International Walk to School Day involves nearly 6,000 schools from all 50 states. In 2007, a record 42 countries participated in International Walk to School events.

Children, parents, teachers and community leaders are encouraged to join together for a day, week or month of walking. Go to International Walk to School Day 2008 for more information and tips on how to organize, promote and register for International Walk to School events.

Menus for Weight Loss and Healthy Eating
Shape Up America! offers these simple, convenient 1500 calorie and 2000 calorie menus to help you eat healthfully while controlling your calories. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to e-mail us at

My Story
A medical scare led Gena to slowly and realistically change her poor eating habits into good ones and to teach her fellow students how to lose weight in a healthy way.

Like many of you who are reading this story, I have struggled with losing weight most of my adult life. I have tried all the popular diets and a few crazy ones, too. By the time I was 35, I came to the conclusion that I was going to be fat the rest of my life. I always thought of my weight in terms of appearance, but that all changed when I had a TIA, or small stroke, at age 35 and 279 lbs. on a 5'9" frame. I didn't think I could die from being overweight. That is when I started to research "what does my body need to be healthy?"

Like gasoline in your car, the food we use to fuel our body determines how it will run. I started slowly going from a bad habit, to another bad habit that's not as bad, to another bad habit that's not so bad, till I started to reach good habits. This allowed me to make new healthy habits that took hold, and without feeling deprived. Read More…

If you would like to share your personal success story and be an inspiration to others who desire to lose weight, simply use our story submission system on the SUA Web site.

Recipe of the Month
This fun-to-make snack or dessert is a great way to fit more fruit into your diet. Each kebab is low in fat, high in vitamin C, and a good source of fiber.
Grape Kebabs
Makes 4 servings, 1 kebab per serving


  • 4 four-inch bamboo skewers
  • 1 cup chopped pineapple
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 small bananas, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 1 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 2 kiwifruits, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup purple seedless grapes
  • 1/3 cup small strawberries
  • 1/3 cup melon balls
  • 1/3 cup blackberries


  1. For the dip, in a small saucepan bring the pineapple and apple juice to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let stand about 25 minutes or until cool.
  2. Transfer the pineapple mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and blend or process until smooth. If desired, cover and chill in the refrigerator before serving.
  3. Place the bananas in a small bowl. Drizzle with the orange juice, then gently toss until coated.
  4. Cut the kiwi slices into quarters.
  5. For the kebabs, thread the grapes, bananas, kiwi, strawberries, melon balls and blackberries onto 4-inch bamboo skewers. Serve with the dip.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 150 calories, 1 gram total fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 36 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein, 4 grams dietary fiber, 20 milligrams sodium, 75 milligrams vitamin C

Source: Fruits and Veggies More Matters™

phone: 406-686-4844

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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD

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