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Effects of 3-month high-intensity interval training vs. moderate endurance training and 4-month follow-up on fat metabolism, cardiorespiratory function and mitochondrial respiration in obese adults



The purpose of this study was to investigate, in obese adults, changes in body composition, physical capacities, fat oxidation and ex vivo mitochondrial respiration induced by a 3-month either moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT); afterwards, the patients were followed for four months.


Thirty-two patients (mean age 39 years; mean body mass index [BMI] 36 kg∙m−2) participated in this study attending ~ 34 sessions of training. At baseline (PRE), at the end of the program (POST) and after follow-up, body composition, peak O2 uptake (V′O2peak) and fat oxidation rate were measured. Vastus lateralis biopsies for the evaluation of mitochondrial respiration were performed only at PRE and POST.


At POST, body mass (BM) and fat mass (FM) decreased (− 6 and − 14%, respectively, P < 0.05) in MICT and HIIT; V′O2peak increased in both groups (+ 6 and + 16%, respectively, P < 0.05). Maximal fat oxidation rate increased only after HIIT (P < 0.001). Maximal ADP-stimulated mitochondrial respiration normalized by citrate synthase increased (P < 0.05) by 67% and 36% in MICT and HIIT, respectively, without significant difference. After follow-up, BM and FM were still lower (− 4 and − 20%, respectively, P < 0.050) compared with baseline in both groups. Only after HIIT, V′O2peak (+ 8%) and maximal fat oxidation rate were still higher (P < 0.05).


HIIT was more effective in improving and maintaining V’O2peak and fat oxidation. These results may be relevant for an appropriate prescription of training programs designed to optimize aerobic fitness in obese subjects.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


\({\text{a-}}\bar{v}{\text{O}}_2\ {\text{diff}}\) :

Arteriovenous oxygen difference


Body mass


Body mass index


Cardiac output


Oxidative phosphorylation complex I


Oxidative phosphorylation complex II


Diastolic arterial pressure


Mitochondrial electron transport system


Lipid oxidation rate during the incremental test


Fat mass


Fat-free mass


High-intensity interval training


Homeostasis Model Assessment


Heart rate


International Physical Activity Questionnaire Short Form


Moderate-intensity continuous training


Systolic arterial pressure


Short-Form 12, questionnaire about health-related quality of life


Short-Form 12, mental index


Short-Form 12, physical index


Systemic vascular conductance

V′CO2 :

Pulmonary CO2 output

V′O2 :

Pulmonary O2 uptake


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The authors thank the subjects who agreed to participate to the. They thank the nursing staff at the Department of Public Health—A.A.S. n. 3 “Alto Friuli-Collinare-Medio Friuli” Gemona del Friuli—Udine (Italy), for their qualified assistance during the study. The study was supported by the University of Udine research funds.

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FV and SL conceived the overall study; all the authors contributed to design the research. FV, ADA, FDV, EC, BM and FF and conducted the experiments. FV, AD, JMS, BN, MC, FF, GB and AA analysed the data. FV wrote the manuscript with the help of AP, BM, MC, IM, FF, GB. SL, BG and IM who revised the manuscript. All the authors read and approved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Filippo Vaccari.

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Communicated by Philip D. Chilibeck.

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Vaccari, F., Passaro, A., D’Amuri, A. et al. Effects of 3-month high-intensity interval training vs. moderate endurance training and 4-month follow-up on fat metabolism, cardiorespiratory function and mitochondrial respiration in obese adults. Eur J Appl Physiol 120, 1787–1803 (2020).

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  • Obesity
  • HIIT
  • Lipid oxidation
  • Mitochondrial respiration
  • Aerobic function