Adipose tissue is critical to whole-body energy metabolism and has become recognized as a bona fide endocrine organ rather than an inert lipid reservoir. As such, adipose tissue is dynamic in its ability to secrete cytokines, free fatty acids, lipokines, hormones and other factors in response to changes in environmental stimuli such as feeding, fasting and exercise. While excess adipose tissue, as in the case of obesity, is associated with metabolic complications, mass itself is not the only culprit in obesity-driven metabolic abnormalities, highlighting the importance of healthy and metabolically adaptable adipose tissue. In this review, we discuss the fundamental cellular processes of adipose tissue that become perturbed in obesity and the impact of exercise on these processes. While both endurance and resistance exercise can promote positive physiological adaptations in adipose tissue, endurance exercise has a more documented role in remodeling adipocytes, increasing adipokine secretion and fatty acid mobilization and oxidation during post-exercise compared with resistance exercise. Exercise is considered a viable therapeutic strategy for the treatment of obesity to optimize body composition, in particular as an adjuvant therapy to bariatric surgery; however, there is a gap in knowledge of the molecular underpinnings of these exercise-induced adaptations, which could provide more insight and opportunity for precision-based treatment strategies.
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