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Here's Why Some Obese People Have Healthy Fat Tissue

Here’s Why Some Obese People Have Healthy Fat Tissue

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  • Aerobic exercise helps in the storage of healthy fat in obese individuals
  • Just one session of exercise leads to the growth of new blood vessels in the adipose tissue
  • Being obese is not healthy, but having a safe place to store the extra energy is essential

The critical characteristics of fat tissue that allows few obese adults to store body their fat in a more healthy manner have been identified in two studies from the University of Michigan.

Obese or overweight people who break down fat at a higher rate were found to be less healthy than those people who store their fat more efficiently. This occurs when the fat breaks down, many fatty acids that are released from the adipose tissue (body fat) get stored somewhere else in the body. Too much accumulation can lead to harmful levels in other tissues and organs and can lead to insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Understand How to Store Fat More Effectively

Aerobic exercise helps in the storage of healthy fat, said Jeffrey Horowitz, principal investigator, and professor of movement science at the U-M School of Kinesiology.

In this study, about one-third of the 30 obese adults did not develop insulin resistance, revealed Horowitz and his team.

This made the research team wonder as to what protected these people? The samples of adipose tissue showed that the healthier group broke down fat at slower rates, and were found to have fewer proteins that were involved in the breakdown of fat and more in fat-storing.

These individuals also had fewer fibrotic cells in the adipose tissue allowing the tissue to be more flexible and lowering the activation of specific inflammatory pathways.

Horowitz said, "It sounds counterintuitive, but if we can better understand how to store fat more effectively, and why some people are better at this than others, perhaps we can design therapies and preventions that will improve some of these obesity-related metabolic conditions."

Regular Exercise Creates a Healthy Fat-storing Environment

In the second study, after a session of aerobic exercise, the research team collected fat tissue from two groups of overweight people: one is a group that exercised regularly, and the other who did not exercise.

In both groups, just one session of exercise has triggered signals leading to the growth of new blood vessels in the adipose tissue.

The research team also found that people who exercised regularly had more blood vessels in their fat tissue when compared with the non-exercisers. It is essential, as the health of most tissues hinges on blood flow and nutrients, said Horowitz.

When an individual gains weight, the fat cells expand. However, if the blood flow to the fat tissue does not increase, it can become unhealthy and can even become necrotic.

Horowitz said that these two studies are more relevant to those people who are obese and are at risk for metabolic disease. Regular exercise could create a healthier fat-storing environment, especially in times when the individual overeats and gains weight.

Horowitz also says that the clinicians need to redefine their view of fat by considering these studies.

Adipose tissue is normally considered as the one that causes disease and obesity. However, adipose tissue doesn't cause individuals to gain weight or even lead to obesity. It's all about the extra energy we store when we overeat, explained Horowitz.

These studies do not suggest that being obese is healthy; instead, it is essential to have a safe place to store the extra energy.

"When people gain the same amount of body fat, those with adaptations to their fat tissue that can more healthfully accommodate the extra fat may be protected from developing insulin resistance and obesity-related diseases. We have identified some of these adaptations."

Doug Van Pelt conducted this work as part of his dissertation was a former doctoral student in the Horowitz lab. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky's College of Health Sciences.

The two studies are: "Factors regulating subcutaneous adipose tissue storage, fibrosis, and inflammation may underlie low fatty acid mobilization in insulin-sensitive obese adults" and "Aerobic exercise elevates markers of angiogenesis and macrophage IL6 gene expression in the subcutaneous adipose tissue of overweight to obese adults."

What are the Benefits of Exercise?

Exercise is any physical activity, which enhances the overall fitness of the body. There has to be a good balance between a healthy diet and exercise for maintaining fitness and a life free of diseases.

Regular exercise helps increase muscle strength. A healthy body houses a sound mind, which in turn, gives one an optimistic approach to life.

Moderate but regular aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, gardening and dancing can help obese individuals lose weight, provided that it does not exceed their cardiovascular capacity as well as muscle strengthening, bone strengthening and stretching. Regular exercise reduces the demand for medication by 20% in diabetics and checking the blood glucose levels before and after exercise can be a motivator to continue the exercise regimen.


  1. Dharani M. Sontam, et al. A Memory of Early Life Physical Activity Is Retained in Bone Marrow of Male Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet. Frontiers in Physiology.(2017). DOI:10.3389/fphys.2017.00476

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