Could Exercise Be the Best Treatment for Cellulite?

Advertisements for creams and skin treatments claim they can eliminate cellulite or reduce its appearance. But no studies support claims that they work.  That's because cellulite isn't a "skin thing" that can be treated topically.  It's not even just a "fat thing." So what's the best cellulite treatment to get rid of cellulite for good?  Studies show that exercise can combat cellulite, or at least do the best job in reducing its appearance.  

Cellulite is the lumpy, bumpy skin that 80 percent of us have on our abdomen, thighs, hips or anywhere fat collects. It's normal and requires no medical treatment.  Most people prefer a smooth skin appearance, though, and that's why they'll go to great lengths (and spend lots of money) to eliminate it.

What causes cellulite? According to experts, cellulite is caused by fibrous connective cords that connect the skin to the underlying muscle. The cords tether the skin to deeper structures, with the fat lying in between. As the fat cells accumulate, they push up against the skin, while the long, tough cords are pulling down. This creates an uneven surface or dimpling.

There are a wide variety of spa, massage, and plastic surgery treatments available that provide minimal and/or temporary improvement. But the best (and cheapest) cellulite treatment is overall weight loss and muscle toning.  Losing fat and gaining muscle tone will make cellulite less obvious, though some experts warn it won't make it go away completely.

The American Council on Exercise reports that daily cardio exercise combined with two to three strength-training sessions a week along with a healthy diet are proven to actually work for cellulite reduction.  In their article on exercise and cellulite, they report that Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., and author of No More Cellulite (Perigee, 2003), designed a special cellulite-reduction program. This program includes 20 minutes of strength training with five exercises for the upper body and five for the lower body, and 20 minutes of treadmill walking or jogging (staying at about 70 percent to 80 percent of maximal heart rate.) This program is followed three days per week, although participants can always do more cardio.

Participants in an eight-week study of Westcott's program lost about 1 pound per week or about 10 pounds after two months. When participants combined the exercise program with good eating habits (a food pyramid-based diet consisting of either 1,600, 2,220 or 2,800 calories), they doubled the fat loss, losing 9.1 pounds of fat (compared to 4.5 pounds without the nutritional component).

In another study led by Westcott, 72 men and women did three 30-minute workouts for eight weeks. The group that did only aerobic exercise, cycling for 30 minutes at a time, lost 4 pounds of fat but gained no muscle, which only slightly improved body composition. Yet when subjects did aerobic exercise (15 minutes of cycling) and strength training, they dropped 10 pounds of fat and added 2 pounds of muscle, which resulted in a greater improvement in body composition.

So, ditch the creams and hit the gym.  Exercise may very well be the best cellulite treatment.