By Bob Condor

Americans don’t have to be reminded about the health value of regular exercise. But a new study points out that even one workout can make a difference in how the body oxidizes or burns fat. There are apparently fewer excuses than ever to say, oh, someday, there will be time for a regular exercise program. One brisk walk or trip to the gym can change your metabolism for the better.

The report is even more relevant and hopeful for someone who is overweight or at risk for typc 2 diabetes because it involved obese women (at 20 percent heavier than a healthy weight).

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Scientists at the University of Michigan followed five obese women in the study. In one session, they allowed the women to overeat and not exercise. In a second session, the women were allowed to overeat again, but this exercised after their meal. In many ways, they were simulating everyday life.

What the researchers found is that exercise might play an even bigger role in reducing weight gain and diabetes risk than previously believed and especially compared to diet changes alone.

In the first session of overeating and no exercise, the body’s fat-burning capability was reduced after just that one day of overeating. The volunteers’ fat levels were measured the morning after overeating/exercise sessions and included a muscle biopsy. This reduction in fat-burning or oxidation is what leads to fat by-products remaining in muscle tissue and leading insulin resistance that is so destructive in type 2 diabetes.

During the second session, it was evident that just one bout of exercise increases fat-burning capacity and reduces insulin resistance in the muscles. Instead of fat by-products remaining in muscle due to overeating, the exercise effect is to flush out those by-products. Just one workout can “steer” fat to be burned rather than accumulated, said the researchers.

“Exercise decreases everyone’s insulin resistance and therefore reduces the chances of developing diseases such as type 2 diabe

tes,” said Andrea Cornford, a researcher on the University of Michigan’s team. “This study shows that even a single bout of exercise helps obese individuals increase their body’s fat-burning rate and improve their metabolic health.”

The overeating element in this study is consuming a meal that was up to 700 calories more than a typical lunch or dinner l for U.S. adults. Other research shows eating a meal that is not only high in calories but also saturated fat can predispose the blood vessels to heart attacks in the 12 to 24 hours after the meal.

These studies make a strong case for adopting the smaller, more frequent meals approach long prescribed by sports nutritionists aiming for ways that athletes can stay fueled throughout a full day of workouts and/or games. One practical advantage to eating five to six “mini-meals” is you will less hungry between breakfast/lunch/dinner and not tempted to select a junk-food snack. This type of meal plan is a main feature in Barton Publishing’s new diabetes report, helping to prevent or reverse diabetes.

Moreover, it appears that overeating might not just affect your body physiology but also your mind.

A 2008 study connects a single high-fat meal (Danish pastry with added whipped cream, cheese, whole fat yogurt) with a cognitive decline in older adults immediately following the meal in contrast to a control group that consumed only water. The researchers did find that taking a dose of vitamins C and E did offset a significant portion of the decline.

Not surprisingly, exercise is also associated with reducing depression and cognitive “fog,” both over the long-term and after just one session. There’s another reason to fit in exercise when you can, even if a regular exercise program seems unattainable. Plus, there is a happy result of even sporadic exercise: It can feel so energizing that you might decide the time is now to stay with a consistent workout plan.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for theSeattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.