In our latest research roundup, find out why focusing on fitness can be a better bet than dieting. And learn what you should be eating if you want to enjoy the health benefits of a trimmer waistline.

How boosting fitness beats weight loss tactics

A compelling new research review could help spark life-changing fitness habits for millions. There are currently 650 million obese adults worldwide, and each year 2.8 million people die as a result of being overweight or obese. For many, a focus on weight loss may seem the most obvious way (and potentially the only way) to curb obesity-related health issues. But it’s not necessarily the best solution. This new study shows that when it comes to living a longer healthier life, increasing physical activity beats weight loss tactics hands down. After researchers analyzed hundreds of past studies involving data from tens of thousands of men and women, they found that you can cut the likelihood of heart disease or premature death more significantly by improving fitness, not dropping weight. This suggests you can be healthy at any weight – if you’re active.

“We're not necessarily against weight loss; we just think that it shouldn't be the primary criterion for judging the success of a lifestyle intervention program,” says study co-author Glenn Gaesser of the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. "We would like people to know that fat can be fit, and that fit and healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes," he says.

In the research paper, the experts acknowledge that using weight loss strategies can be beneficial, but they can also contribute further to health issues. A focus on weight reduction commonly results in yo-yo dieting (which is referred to as weight cycling), and this is linked to muscle loss, fatty liver disease, and diabetes.

Given our weight-obsessed culture, it can be challenging for programs that are not focused on weight loss to gain traction, but hopefully, studies such as this awaken people to the value that comes from focusing on physical activity. And as Gaesser points out, for many, drastic changes are not required to make a difference.

"The benefits of exercise are dose-dependent, with the biggest benefits coming from just moving out of the couch-potato zone to doing at least some moderate-intensity activity," Gaesser adds. "It's also important to emphasize that physical activity can be accumulated throughout the day. For example, multiple short walks during the day (even as short as two to ten minutes each) are just as beneficial as one long walk for your health."

Amazing avocados remove fat from dangerous places

Forget apples. An avocado a day could offer more significant health benefits for a huge proportion of the planet’s population. A recent study of overweight or obese individuals found that women who consumed one avocado a day had a reduction in deep visceral belly fat – which is particularly dangerous for your health. The findings came after study participants ate one specific meal each day for 12 weeks. Half the participants enjoyed meals that incorporated a fresh avocado, half had nearly identical meals with similar calories, yet no avocado. Lead researcher Naiman Khan says: "The goal wasn't weight loss; we were interested in understanding what eating an avocado does to the way individuals store their body fat. The location of fat in the body plays an important role in health.” Visceral fat is the fat that sits deep in the abdomen surrounding the internal organs, and it is the most undesirable type of fat. Those with a higher proportion of visceral fat are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and other health issues. Interestingly, this study which was published in the Journal of Nutrition, was funded by the Hass Avocado Board.

How whole grains can help your waistline

A 2021 study has shown whole grains provide benefits on a whole lot of levels. Examining data spanning multiple decades, researchers found that middle-aged adults who ate at least three servings of whole grains a day had smaller increases in waist size, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels over time compared to those who ate less than half a serving per day.

The study showed that with each four-year interval, the waist size increased by an average of one inch for those who had a low intake of grains but only half an inch for those who had a high intake. And the average increase in blood sugar levels and systolic blood pressure was greater in low intake participants compared to high intake participants.

According to the researchers, these health benefits are likely due to the dietary fiber in whole grains having a satiating effect. They say the magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants may contribute to lowering blood pressure, and soluble fiber, in particular, may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes.

An example of one whole grains serving is a slice of whole-grain bread, a half cup of rolled oats cereal, or a half-cup of brown rice. "The average American consumes about five servings of refined grains daily, much more than is recommended, so it's important to think about ways to replace refined grains with whole grains throughout your day,” says study author Nicola McKeown. “For example, you might consider a bowl of whole-grain cereal instead of a white flour bagel for breakfast and replacing refined-grain snacks, entrees, and side dishes with whole-grain options. Small incremental changes in your diet to increase whole-grain intake will make a difference over time.”