Carrying too much body weight creates both short-term and long-term health issues. In the short term, excess body weight raises blood glucose levels, blood lipids (cholesterol), blood pressure and creates oxidative stress and inflammation (not to mention making it more challenging to fit into our clothes).
Over the long term, these short-term impacts of excess body weight cause systemic health conditions to develop ranging from diabetes to cardiovascular disease to cancer.
So whether you desire to lose weight for aesthetic reasons or the corresponding health benefits, there are three basic levers we can manipulate ourselves to drop those pounds. We can restrict calorie consumption, increase physical activity or pursue both actions simultaneously.
Not surprisingly, these three levers not only help us look and feel better, they also help reduce the prevalence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, oxidative stress and inflammation. Further, healthy dietary habits and increased physical activity are strongly correlated with pronounced decreased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
However, there is one sort-of gotcha related to physical exercise that scientists have noticed among overweight individuals. It has been shown in a number of studies that intense exercise actually increases oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight study subjects rather than reducing these health risk factors. Truth be told, intense exercise increases oxidative stress and inflammation even among elite athletes, but since oxidative stress and inflammation are already high in overweight individuals, scientists are particularly concerned about further exacerbating these health risk factors when recommending an exercise program.
So when beginning a new exercise program as part of a weight loss regimen, doctors most often suggest a regimen of moderate intensity versus high intensity. For most of us, this means working out at a level that represents 60 percent to 70 percent of our maximum capacity.
While scientists most often use a measure known as VO2 maximum to determine a person’s maximum exercise capacity, determining VO2 max requires specialized equipment and a trained technician to interpret the results.
A simple way to determine whether your exercise routine is at a moderate intensity level is by first calculating your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) and then multiplying the resulting number by 60 percent to 70 percent. So, for example, let’s say you are 50 years of age, your maximum heart rate is considered by scientists to be 170 beats per minute (220-50). Moderate-intensity exercise at 60 percent to 70percent of your maximum heart rate implies you should target a heart rate between 100 and 120 beats per minute during a cardiovascular workout (170 x .60 = 102, 170 x.70 = 119).
This heart rate range is equivalent to a brisk walk to slow jog for most people, and as we reported in another recent article, a consistent program of low-to-moderate-intensity exercise five to seven days a week showed remarkable weight loss benefits compared to a traditional program.
This is not to say that high-intensity exercise (80 percent to 90 percent of maximum exercise capacity) is a bad idea for those who desire to lose weight (see our recent article on this topic here). But when following a high-intensity exercise regimen, recent research suggests that supplementing your daily diet with targeted antioxidants can help offset the increased risk of oxidative stress and inflammation.
As an example, a new study published last month online ahead of print in the journal Obesity demonstrated that overweight subjects participating in the research project who consumed 200 micrograms of the trace mineral selenium (a powerful antioxidant) for three weeks reduced a known marker of oxidative stress called lipid hydroperoxide (LH) by 26 percent when measured post-exercise.
In fact, the study revealed that overweight individuals who consumed selenium had approximately the same level of pre- and post-exercise LH as normal weight individuals who participated in the study but who received a placebo instead of selenium. This seems to indicate that the selenium supplementation eliminated the higher baseline level of oxidative stress among the overweight study subjects both before and after exercise.
The Obesity study authors noted, “Given that the OW [overweight] group had low Se [selenium] levels before supplementation this is the likely cause of a compromised antioxidant system and raised LH levels at rest and after high-intensity exercise. Se supplementation in the OW group was effective at increasing plasma Se levels to near recommended levels which in turn decreased LH responses at rest and after high-intensity exercise …
Several limitations remain in the study, which include lack of dietary monitoring on a continuous basis throughout trial and lack of GSH-Px [antioxidant enzyme] measurement to explain possible mechanisms. This study does however provide preliminary evidence for a potential role of Se as an effective antioxidant therapy to reduce oxidant stress at rest and following high-intensity exercise in ‘high-risk’ population groups. This study should be replicated in a larger sample and over a longer time period to assess potential interactions between exercise-induced oxidant stress and physiological adaptations to long-term exercise training e.g., weight loss, enhanced antioxidant capacity. In addition, such responses to Se supplementation should be examined in an obese population in whom there may be an even greater need to negate raised LH levels and compromised antioxidant capacity.”
While the Obesity study researchers focused on selenium supplementation, they noted that other researchers have investigated a range of antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress in overweight individuals, including:
1. A 2007 study found six months supplementation of vitamin E at 800 IU daily dosage lowered another oxidative stress marker by 11% among overweight individuals.
2. A 2006 study showed that eight weeks of antioxidant supplementation significantly reduced exercise-related oxidative stress markers in overweight young adults (800 IU of vitamin E, 500 mg of vitamin C, 10 mg of beta carotene).
3. A 2004 study reported 29 percent lower LH levels in obese individuals who received six months of vitamin E supplementation at 800 IU per day for the first three months and 1,200 IU per day for the second three months.
4. A 1999 study demonstrated that overweight diabetic study subjects who received eight weeks of antioxidant supplementation (24 mg beta carotene, 1,000 mg vitamin C, 800 IU vitamin E) experienced a 30 percent drop in the oxidative stress marker evaluated in the study.
Those who have downloaded and read our new, free special report titled, ”7 Supplements for Lifetime Vitality,” will note that the above antioxidants are typically found in one-a-day-type multi-nutrients, but at lower dosage levels than were studied in the above references. Most one-a-day-type multi-nutrients provide only the “dietary reference intake” or “DRI” levels determined by the National Academy of Sciences as adequate for most individuals. As we highlighted in our special report, for those of us with existing health conditions (such as obesity), these DRI dosages are not enough to offset the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. The above study references reinforce this point among overweight individuals.
For healthy weight management, we continue to recommend adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, a regular program of physical activity (whether high intensity or low intensity), and complementing both actions by adding targeted antioxidants to your daily routine. In our opinion, these actions together can make a significant difference in your appearance, short-term health risk factors and long-term health outlook.
 Savory LA, et al. Selenium Supplementation and Exercise: Effect on Oxidative Stress in Overweight Adults. Obesity. 2011 May 19 (epub ahead of print).
 Sutherland WH, et al. Vitamin E supplementation and plasma 8-isoprostane and adiponectin in overweight subjects. Obesity. 2007; 15: 386–391.
 Vincent HK, et al. Antioxidant supplementation lowers exercise-induced oxidative stress in young overweight adults. Obesity. 2006; 14: 2,224–2,235.
 Manning PJ, et al. Effect of high-dose vitamin E on insulin resistance and associated parameters in overweight subjects. Diabetes Care. 2004; 27: 2,166–2,171.
 Anderson JW, et al. Antioxidant supplementation effects on low-density lipoprotein oxidation for individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999; 18: 451–461.