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It took just three months to turn couch potato Noah Pihema into a boxing machine.
The Lower Hutt 14-year-old took part in a small pilot study of three heavyweight Maori and Pacific teens to see if making exercise fun actually works.
He wasn't asked to change what he ate or his usual routine.
Instead, all he had to do was go to the Petone Sports and Boxing Club three times a week, strap on some gloves and get his heart rate up.
He dropped several kilograms from his 135kg frame and has come out of his shell.
He even had a go at rugby league after giving up team sports while at primary school because he was bigger than the other kids.
The Taita College student gets less "puffed out" and feels fitter, but most of all he's found a sport he wants to keep doing.
"He's just gifted," boxing coach Robbie Martin said. "I looked at him and said, ‘you're just a natural fighter', and he just looked at me like I was from a different planet."
Noah's mum, Terina Pihema, has also noticed a difference in her son, who is exercising more and sitting in front of the television less.
The Massey University pilot study looked at whether exercise alone can improve the health of obese teens, who are more at risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Maori and Pacific teens were selected as they have much higher rates of obesity - nearly a quarter of Pacific children and just over 11 per cent of Maori children aged 2-14 are obese, compared with five per cent of European children.
They had aimed to recruit 10 teens to take part, but just three completed the sessions, which made it hard to make conclusions based on the results, sports and exercise researcher Sarah Shultz said.
However, she did notice their confidence and their ability to do the exercise grew as the programme progressed.
Though weight wasn't a focus of the study, two had to buy smaller school trousers, sport and exercise researcher Lee Stoner said.
"What we did find, and didn't anticipate so much, was the strong psychological components of the study."
The boys' confidence and self-esteem improved and they also said they felt less angry, Stoner said.
The parents noticed their boys were doing better at school, had more self-confidence, were helping around the house and were taking part in other sports.
"They hadn't wanted to be part of group rugby games in the past because they didn't feel worthy, but now a couple of them have joined school sports teams and they wouldn't have been in that position before."
A larger study next year would include looking at the psychological aspects in greater depth, alongside the primary aim of seeing whether visceral fat - the dangerous layer around major organs - can be decreased through increased exercise.
They started out learning the basics by doing low impact resistance training and then they progressed from basic punching techniques to learning combinations, which Noah excelled at, Stoner said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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