Why Liposuction is a Poor Substitute for Exercise


It sounds so easy! You have a layer of annoying fat around your belly that gives you a muffin top. Watch advertisements for plastic surgery and they’ll make you think that liposuction is a quick and easy way to trim your thighs, buttocks, waistline, or belly. Some people even use liposuction as a way to get rid of a double chin.

If you don’t know, liposuction is a procedure where a trained plastic surgeon inserts a thin cannula through a small incision in the skin. They then use a vacuum to suck out excess subcutaneous fat, the kind just underneath the skin that it’s easy to pinch. You can have this procedure under local anesthesia while fully awake or with general anesthesia where you sleep throughout the procedure. Intravenous sedation is another option where you’re relaxed from IV medications but are still awake.

Why Liposuction Shouldn’t Be Your First Choice for Removing Stubborn Fat

Getting liposuction sounds easier than exercising, and that’s why many people are intrigued by it. However, there are some disadvantages and possible complications you can experience after a liposuction procedure. Studies carried out in recent years show that the subcutaneous fat you remove via liposuction may reappear as visceral fat.

What is visceral fat? It’s a more dangerous type of deep, belly fat linked with health problems such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. For example, one manifestation of visceral fat is a build-up of fat around the liver, a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

How can the fat you suction out end up in deep in your belly? When you take out fat, your body compensates for the loss by increasing the amount of visceral fat on your body. So, you trade less unhealthy subcutaneous fat for high-risk visceral fat. On the plus side, the study also found that physical activity may reduce or prevent compensatory visceral fat build-up. Therefore, surgeons should tell their liposuction patients to exercise once they’ve recovered from their lipo procedure.

Visceral fat often shows up as a larger waistline and it’s one of the best ways to monitor your metabolic health and risk of heart disease. One study of middle-aged and older women found those with the largest waist-to-hip ratio had more than twice the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Other Disadvantages of Liposuction

Another disadvantage of lipo is it can be painful, not usually during the procedure, but afterward. Even after an uncomplicated liposuction session you can expect to feel sore and have skin sensitivity. Some people even need pain medications. It’s also common to experience swelling after the procedure that can last for days. More serious side effects include changes in sensation, scarring, bleeding, and infection.

Even more serious is the risk of having a reaction to the anesthesia, assuming the surgeon uses general anesthesia. You can have other complications unrelated to the anesthesia too. The risks are greater when you remove fat in more than one area during a single session or if the surgeon sucks out too much fat. If you get liposuction performed on large areas, there’s a risk of removing too much fat tissue and fluid. Such a quick loss of fat and fluids could cause a drop in blood pressure and even death. Although rare, there are people who have died from a liposuction procedure, mostly those who had large amounts of fat removed. Therefore, the quantity of fat you can remove at one time is limited for safety reasons.

Liposuction also doesn’t remove stretch marks or cellulite. Some people get liposuction in hopes of eliminating dimpling around their thighs, but lipo won’t help, and, in some cases, it can make cellulite look more prominent. In fact, some people who get lipo have more lumpiness afterward, especially if the surgeon removed large amounts of fat.

Exercise First!

If you’re tempted to get lipo, do your research and don’t commit to the procedure until you’ve done everything you can do through diet and exercise. Exercise improves your body composition and your health, and that’s something liposuction can’t do. It also can’t teach you healthy habits that will help you maintain a healthy body composition for life. The best way to manage your weight is to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that are sustainable, like eating whole, unprocessed foods, and exercising on a consistent basis.

Once you’ve done all you can through exercise and an unprocessed diet, if you still have an area of fat that bothers you and won’t seem to budge no matter what you do, do your research and talk to a board-certified plastic surgeon. Other health care professionals sometimes perform this procedure too, but they don’t have the background in surgical procedures that a plastic surgeon does. Don’t trust your body to someone who isn’t trained in all aspects of cosmetic surgery.

The Bottom Line

Liposuction sounds like an easy way to remove unwanted fat, especially in stubborn areas like the lower tummy and inner thighs, but, as you can see, it isn’t a suitable replacement for exercise and there’s evidence that the fat you remove could come back in another area, usually visceral fat, a more risky kind in terms of your health. Work with exercise, both aerobic and strength training first, and upgrade your diet. Make sure you’re sleeping enough and have effective tactics for relieving stress. Both lack of sleep and stress makes it harder to lose weight. Be patient too. It takes time to reach weight loss goals. If you should decide that you still need liposuction, make sure to get it from a board-certified plastic surgeon. They have the best training for doing the procedure safely and effectively.




  • Medical News Today. “What are the benefits and risks of liposuction?”
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Liposuction”
  • Indian J Plast Surg. 2013 May-Aug; 46(2): 377–392.doi: 10.4103/0970-0358.118617.
  • J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Jul;97(7):2388-95. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-1012. Epub 2012 Apr 26.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. “Taking aim at belly fat”
  • Diabetes Care 2011 May; 34(Supplement 2): S367-S370.https://doi.org/10.2337/dc11-s249.


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