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The Facts About Fat
The following is excerpted from Turn Up Your Fat Burn!™, new from Rodale
By Alyssa Shaffer and the editors of Prevention
Among American women, an average of 31 percent of total body weight is fat; for men, the number is about 24 percent. Most adipose (fat) tissue is located under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and around the internal organs (visceral fat), as well as in bone marrow and breasts. Visceral fat, the kind you often can’t see, is a deep fat that’s particularly dangerous, especially in the abdominal area. It increases the risk of high cholesterol and impaired liver function, as well as of heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, and other health problems.
Subcutaneous fat is the kind that gives us curves, but for plenty of people, it’s hanging around in excess, especially in the trunk, the backs of the arms, the top of the back, and around the butt and thighs. While it’s not as dangerous as visceral fat, too much subcutaneous fat can be unhealthy, especially when it raises your body mass index (BMI) above 25. (BMI is a measurement of body fat based on weight and height. A “normal” weight falls within 18.5 to 24.9, while 25 to 29.9 is considered “overweight,” and 30 or more is considered obese.)
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Why exercise when I can diet?
There’s no arguing with the basic weight-loss equation: In order to drop excess pounds, you need to burn more calories than you consume. You can do this by drastically cutting calories, but for many of us, dieting alone is simply too hard. To lose just a pound a week, you’d need to cut 3,500 calories from your diet, or 500 fewer calories a day than you are used to eating. While you can keep this up for a few days or even a few weeks, eventually it becomes just too difficult to keep slashing calories.
That’s where exercise comes in. Scientific journals are filled with evidence that regular physical activity not only will help you lose weight (and live longer) but is crucial to staying leaner. The American College of Sports Medicine even created an official recommendation that anyone who wants to lose weight should try to create a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories a day through a combination of diet and physical activity. Among participants in the renowned National Weight Control Registry (the largest ongoing study of successful long-term weight loss, consisting of more than 5,000 individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept that weight off for at least 1 year), consistent exercise is the single best predictor of long-term weight maintenance.
Think of it this way: If you add 60 minutes of activity a day, even just a brisk walk, you’ll burn another 2,300 calories a week. Over a year, that’s about 35 pounds you’ve either kept off or lost.
Bottom line: If you’re in this for the long haul, dieting alone can be tough. To get the best results, you also need to exercise.
Sometimes no matter how many miles you walk on the treadmill or pedal away on the bike or elliptical, you can still feel very frustrated when you step on the scale or look in the mirror. While exercise is undeniably good for your heart, lungs, and brain, it can be bad for your psyche if you’re not getting the positive results you want.
WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?
Let’s start with what you’re doing right. You don’t need a PhD in exercise physiology to know that any form of physical activity will improve your health. Every time you raise your heart rate with aerobic exercise, you’re helping your heart and lungs get stronger and more efficient. You’re bathing your brain in feel-good hormones; you’re pushing oxygenated blood throughout your body to deliver important nutrients to your tissues; you’re helping your body get a better night’s sleep. When you add strength and flexibility training to the mix, you’re also building stronger bones; revving your metabolism; and keeping your joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles limber throughout the decades of your life.
Yet many of us don’t see the weight-loss results we expect because of how much, how often, and how hard we’re exercising. Take a look at these common workout mistakes—some may sound pretty familiar.
Mistake#1: You’re caught in an exercise rut.
When you do the same activity day after day, week after week, your mind isn’t the only thing that gets bored—your muscles do, too. Whether you take the same daily 30-minute walk around the neighborhood loop or do a few sets of the same old strength moves, after a while your body stops being challenged and your results plateau.
Mend it: Change things up. Go for a hike on the weekend instead of doing your usual power walk. Find new strength moves that work the same muscles. (There are some great ones in the following chapters.) Try a new type of exercise by slipping in a workout DVD. Any little way to mix things up and challenge yourself with something new is a step in the right direction.
Mistake #2: You’re loyal to cardio.
I have friends who run, bike, or swim religiously but can’t get rid of stubborn fat around their tummies, hips, and thighs. It’s because they haven’t picked up a pair of weights in years. While aerobic exercise is good for your body and soul, if you don’t balance those workouts with some strength exercises, you’re not only compromising your results but missing a key component of health and fitness. Resistance training— lifting weights or strength training—is the only way to increase lean muscle mass. That’s important on many levels, especially as we start to get older.
Beginning in their thirties, women begin to lose about 1/2 pound of muscle per year. (Men usually hold on to muscle longer, but the rate of muscle loss speeds up dramatically after age 60.) Since muscle burns through calories even at rest, losing it will noticeably slow metabolism. This is one big reason many of us see that “middle-age spread” beginning in our forties.
A study from Skidmore College found that exercisers who combined cardio with a high-intensity, total-body resistance routine lost more than twice as much body fat—including twice as much belly fat—over 12 weeks than those who followed a moderate-intensity cardio plan.8 (You’ll find out more about the many benefits of strength training later in this book.)
Mend it: Substitute a couple of strength sessions for cardio days. On our plan, you’ll be lifting weights twice a week, hitting all of your body’s major muscle groups.
Mistake #3: You’re stuck in a “fat-burning” zone.
If you hop aboard a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stairclimber, or other cardio machine at the gym, you may see a programming option that allows you to stay in a “fat-burning” zone. It’s based on the fact that at lower intensities, the body uses a greater percentage of its fat stores for fuel. Sounds great! You don’t have to work as hard and you’re sucking some of that fat out of your belly, butt, and thighs.
But do the math and you’ll see the problem. At a lower intensity level, your body will indeed burn a higher percentage of fat than carbs but still burn fewer calories overall.
Here’s an example. A 150-pound woman who walks on a treadmill at 3 mph (a 20-minute mile) burns about 112 calories in 30 minutes. At this moderate intensity, she burns about half of those calories from fat, or about 56 fat calories. If she were to take that workout into a brisk walk for 30 minutes at 4 mph (a 15-minute mile), only about 40 percent of her calorie burn might be from fat. But she’d be burning more calories over-all—about 170 in those 30 minutes, or about 68 calories from fat.
Mend it: In the next chapter, you’ll learn how to burn more calories and make more of those calories come from fat. You will increase your overall effort by doing intervals—periods of higher intensity followed by a slower recovery pace.
If you’re already exercising regularly, the Turn Up Your Fat Burn program is designed to help you get past some of these common mistakes and achieve the fitness and fat-loss results you want. And if you’re not involved in an exercise program right now, there’s no better time to start.
Copyright © 2011 by Rodale, Inc.
Get Great Results—Fast—With the Turn Up Your Fat Burn DVD
Get Great Results—Fast—With the Turn Up Your Fat Burn DVD