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Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors

Background: Regular exercise and consuming long-chain n–3 fatty acids (FAs) from fish or fish oil can independently improve cardiovascular and metabolic health, but combining these lifestyle modifications may be more effective than either results alone.

Objective: We examined the individual and combined effects of n–3 FA supplements and regular exercise on body composition and cardiovascular health.

Design: Overweight volunteers [body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2): >25] with high blood pressure, cholesterol, or triacylglycerols were randomly assigned to one of the following interventions: fish oil (FO), FO and exercise (FOX), sunflower oil (SO; control), or SO and exercise (SOX). Subjects consumed 6 g tuna FO/d ({approx}1.9 g n–3 FA) or 6 g SO/d. The exercise groups walked 3 d/wk for 45 min at 75% age-predicted maximal heart rate. Plasma lipids, blood pressure, and arterial function were assessed at 0, 6, and 12 wk. Body composition was assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry at 0 and 12 wk only.

Results: FO supplementation lowered triacylglycerols, increased HDL cholesterol, and improved endothelium-dependent arterial vasodilation (P < 0.05). Exercise improved arterial compliance (P < 0.05). Both fish oil and exercise independently reduced body fat (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: FO supplements and regular exercise both reduce body fat and improve cardiovascular and metabolic health. Increasing intake of n–3 FAs could be a useful adjunct to exercise programs aimed at improving body composition and decreasing cardiovascular disease risk.