Last January, in cooperation with Boston Medical Center, we initiated a study to examine the effects of a combined exercise and nutrition program on body weight, body composition, waist size, and resting blood pressure.

Last January, in cooperation with Boston Medical Center, we initiated a study to examine the effects of a combined exercise and nutrition program on body weight, body composition, waist size and resting blood pressure. The exercise program was based on a study we conducted for essentially the same purpose with the U.S. Air Force. The diet/nutrition plan was designed by Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of weight loss programs at Boston Medical Center, and a national leader in nutrition and health.


Exercise program


A few years ago, we designed a basic and brief exercise program that was carefully compared to the standard conditioning program at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The standard Air Force fitness plan was 60 minutes of mostly aerobic activity, performed four or five days each week for 12 weeks. Our fitness program was a combination of strength and endurance exercises completed within a 20-minute circuit training class, three days each week, for 12 weeks. At the conclusion of the study, the participants in our exercise program attained significantly greater improvements than the participants in the standard conditioning program in every assessment area (waist size, 12-minute run, push-ups, sit-ups).


Based on these favorable research results, we developed a similar exercise protocol for last year’s slimming-down and shaping-up study. Our participants performed one set each of three leg exercises (leg extension, leg curl, leg press), followed by five minutes of stationary cycling, then one set each of three upper body exercises (chest press, pull down, shoulder press), followed by five minutes of stationary cycling, then one set each of three trunk/core exercises (abdominal flexion, low back extension, torso rotation), followed by five minutes of stationary cycling. When performed at a moderate pace, the exercise program took 40 to 50 minutes to finish.


Diet/nutrition plan


The specific aspects of Dr. Apovian’s diet/nutrition plan will be presented in her new book, which is scheduled for publication in March. However, the general dietary guidelines featured a reasonable caloric restriction (1,200 to 1,500 calories a day for women; 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day for men), a relatively high protein intake (including after-exercise protein shakes), and a healthy emphasis on vegetable, fruits and water consumption.


Research results


For this 10-week study, we compared the effects of the exercise program alone and the exercise program plus the nutrition plan on body weight, body fat percentage, fat weight, lean (muscle) weight, waist size, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. The results clearly demonstrated the additional benefits attained by incorporating Dr. Apovian’s diet/nutrition plan. Although the 44 participants (average age 62 years) in the exercise-only group made positive changes, the 45 participants (average age 60 years) in the exercise-plus-nutrition group achieved significantly greater improvements in almost all of the assessment areas.


The exercise-plus-nutrition participants experienced approximately five times as much weight loss (5.5 pounds versus 1.2 pounds.), three times as much fat loss (7.1 pounds versus 2.4 pounds), about three times as much body composition improvement (2.9 percent versus 1.1 percent), almost twice as much waist girth reduction (1.7 inches versus 1.1 inches), and much better resting blood pressure responses. The exercise-plus-nutrition group also gained more lean (muscle) weight than the exercise-only group (1.6 pounds vs 1.1 pounds).


These were excellent results, especially considering the relatively small amount of exercise time and the reasonable diet plan. The participants in the exercise-and-nutrition group lost almost 6 pounds of body weight, but they actually improved their body composition by almost 9 pounds (7.1 pounds less fat and 1.6 pounds more muscle). In other words, they changed their body for the better by about 1 pound every week of the program. This impressive rate of body composition improvement is both significant and sustainable, which is good news for people with too much fat and too little muscle.


If you would like more information about our research-based guidelines for slimming down and shaping up, you can attend my presentation at 5:15 p.m. on Jan. 3 at Quincy College. We will meet in Room 019, President’s Place, 1250 Hancock St. There is no charge to attend, but please call me at 617-984-1716 for seating purposes.


Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has written 25 books on physical fitness and strength training.