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Winter 2003

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Shaping up

Trying to keep up with the nonstop reports on new diet and exercise plans? Now there’s research at Skidmore with news you can use.
     This fall Paul Arciero, associate professor of exercise science, conducted a head-to-head comparison of the American Heart Association (AHA) and Body-for-Life (BFL) regimens, measuring their effects on body composition (fat vs. muscle mass), metabolic rate (calories burned at rest), blood cholesterol, and muscle strength in women and men age twenty-five to sixty.
Lori Dawson, dance-theater technical director, works at a weight machine under the supervision of Meghan Everett ’03, researcher Paul Arciero, and Lauren Zwicky ’03.
     The study was made possible by an initial $120,000 grant from Experimental and Applied Sciences of Golden, Colo.—and by the willingness of sixty-four Skidmore faculty and staff members and other area residents to make serious changes in their daily routines. For twelve weeks, the twenty participants in the AHA test group and twenty-two in BFL showed up at the gym nearly every morning for carefully monitored exercise sessions, and they followed rigorous diet plans with help from a dietician. The twenty-two assigned to the control group were free to indulge their usual dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles.
     The AHA diet emphasizes complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, with low fat and relatively low protein intakes. Workouts entail light to moderate aerobic activities for thirty to sixty minutes most days of the week, with little attention given to weight training. By contrast, the BFL diet is high in both protein and complex carbohydrates—in equal proportion—and low in fat. Its six-days-a-week exercise plan alternates weight training with twenty-minute high-intensity aerobics. Both programs call for six small meals daily and supply three of them—special protein bars and shakes for the BFL group, and foods such as oatmeal and applesauce for those in AHA.
     Even after a few weeks, enthusiasm ran so high among participants that Arciero applied for an extension grant, and when it came through, most re-enlisted for another three months. “It’s a terrific program,” says Hedi Jaouad, associate professor of French and a member of the AHA group. He admits he was disappointed to regain some of the weight he lost early on, but Arciero says that’s to be expected as muscle mass increases. And Arciero stresses that the goal isn’t losing weight, but achieving optimal body composition. In fact, he reports, both groups are losing weight and, more important, significantly reducing their percentage of body fat.
     BFL follower Mary Cogan, records coordinator for University Without Walls, enthuses, “I’ve had a spike in energy and even in clear-headedness. I feel immeasurably better.” After a momentary hesitation, she decided to continue her 6 a.m. workouts and diet regimen through the second phase of the study. “It’s not always easy,” she says, “but it’s the right thing to do.”
     Not only are participants continuing to improve their fitness (using a free three-month pass at the Saratoga YMCA to help them exercise more independently), but control-group members have now joined the test groups. And Arciero and his research team—alumni Heather Wood ’01, Roger Martin-Pressman ’02, and Michael Ormsbee ’02 and students Lauren Zwicky ’03 and Meghan Everett ’03—are compiling deeper and richer data. “Three months is really short-term,” says Arciero. “But at six months, we’ll have a long-term study with more validity—and the participants will have a greater chance of achieving lifelong change.” —KG


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