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Clinical Studies and Practice

Effects of active commuting and leisure-time exercise on fat loss in women and men with overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial



Aerobic exercise is recommended for weight management but energy balance is often less negative than predicted from exercise energy expenditure (ExEE).


To examine effects of active commuting and leisure-time exercise on fat loss in women and men with overweight and obesity.


We randomized 130 younger, physically inactive women and men with overweight and obesity (body mass index: 25–35 kg m2) to 6 months of habitual lifestyle (control; CON, n=18), active commuting (BIKE, n=35) or leisure-time exercise of moderate (MOD, 50% VO2peak reserve, n=39) or vigorous intensity (VIG, 70% VO2peak reserve, n=38). The primary outcome was change in fat mass measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, which was analyzed intention-to-treat. Accumulated energy balance was calculated based on changes in body composition, and ExEE was calculated based on heart rate monitoring during exercise.


Testing at 3 and 6 months was completed by 95 and 90 participants, respectively. Fat mass was reduced after 3 and 6 months in BIKE (3 months: −3.6 (−5.5; −1.7) kg (mean (95% CI)); 6 months: −4.2 (−6.6; −1.9) kg; both: P<0.001), MOD (3 months: −2.2 (−3.9; −0.4) kg; 6 months: −2.6 (−4.8; −0.5) kg, both: P<0.02) and VIG (3 months: −3.4 (−5.2; −1.7) kg; 6 months: −4.5 (−6.6; −2.3) kg; both: P<0.001) compared with CON. Furthermore, fat loss was greater in VIG compared with MOD (6 months: −1.8 (−3.6; −0.1) kg, P=0.043). Based on the ExEE and the accumulated energy balance MOD compensated for the ExEE (77 (48; 106) %) but not BIKE (38 (−18; 95) %) and VIG (21 (−14; 55) %).


A meaningful fat loss was obtained by 6 months of active commuting and leisure-time exercise, but fat loss was greater with vigorous compared with moderate intensity exercise. Active commuting is an alternative to leisure-time exercise in the management of overweight and obesity. The trial was registered at as NCT01962259 (main trial) and NCT01973686 (energy metabolism sub-study).

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We would like to thank all volunteers who participated in the study as well as the students and technical staff who contributed to the practical work. Furthermore, we thank Professor Robert Ross, Queens University, Kingston, ON, Canada, for exceptional guidance and scientific advice and Associate Professor Lene Theil Skovgaard, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, for statistical assistance. The study was funded by the University of Copenhagen Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research (, TrygFonden and Gerda and Aage Haensch’s Fund. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Jonas Salling Quist was supported by a PhD scholarship from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The trial is registered at as NCT01962259 (main trial) and NCT01973686 (energy metabolism sub-study).

Author contributions

Designed research: JSQ, MR, MBP, ASG, AS and BS; conducted research: JSQ, MR, MBP, ASG, AS, BS; analyzed and interpreted the data: JSQ, MR, AS and BS; wrote first draft of the manuscript: JSQ; contributed to the writing of the manuscript: JSQ, MR, MBP, ASG, AS and BS. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to J S Quist.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on International Journal of Obesity website

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Quist, J., Rosenkilde, M., Petersen, M. et al. Effects of active commuting and leisure-time exercise on fat loss in women and men with overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Obes 42, 469–478 (2018).

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