From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Exercise for Maximum Calorie Burn

In Exercise, Weight Loss on May 20, 2012 at 1:55 PM

If you have been abiding by my “Ten Laws of Weight Control” and are yet to see the weight loss results you are looking for, it may be that your application of rule # 7 (“Exercise is Essential”) has been ineffective.  We all hear guidelines and recommendations regarding exercise at every turn from various sources.  The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular activity (a.k.a “cardio”) to get your heart pumping enough to maintain a healthy heart.  Unfortunately, this minimal amount of recommended exercise is rarely enough to help people shed pounds and keep them off.  Sorry folks…  Exercising 5 times a week for 30 minutes  is good for your health, no question, but if you want the numbers on the scale to budge, it requires a lot more effort to burn body fat and adequate calories.

The type of activity you choose will also have in impact on calorie burn, as it requires a heck of a lot more energy (i.e. calories) to jog 3 miles in 30 minutes than taking a joy ride on a bike around your neighborhood in the same about of time.  Exercise is a must for optimal weight control and it is not just about “putting in the time”…it is about intensity.

Think you have been working out hard enough?  Well, if you are trying to lose weight and not seeing results, you may want to do a little detective work.  A good way to monitor your intensity during exercise is by measuring your heart rate.  The harder you exercise, the higher your heart rate will go, and the more calories you will burn. In today’s technological times, you can get your hands on an inexpensive heart rate monitor (such as the Timex Easy Trainer for $50) that will provide the appropriate feedback to inform you whether to ramp up or ramp down your intensity to get the desired results.

The first thing you want to do is determine your maximum heart rate, or MHR.  This number is determined by your age (older folks get a break here), and a number you should try not to exceed for optimal performance.  The “gold standard” formula for determining MHR is 220-your age.  For example, I am about to turn 43, so my MHR would be 177 beats per minutes (bpm).  Considering that my resting heart rate is typically low (55-60 bpm), I would really have to be cranking in high gear to have my heart rate rise 122 points! The lower your fitness level (hello, couch potatoes) the faster your heart rate will climb upon exertion.  WIth my higher than average fitness level,  I am lucky to get my heart rate up to 100 bpm while taking a brisk walk… So, when I am looking to drop a few pounds, I gotta choose activities that challenge me and make me WORK!  In other words, the fitter you are, the harder you have to exercise to adequately raise your heart rate. So, if you have been exercising diligently over months or years and have now hit a weight loss plateau, your exercise habits need to change to challenge your body again and help you burn more calories. Our bodies are very adaptable machines.

You will want to exercise differently day-to-day based on how much time you have available for exercise as well as wanting to shake things up and keep your body guessing.  This is the best way to fit effective workouts into your schedule as well as keeping your metabolism burning unwanted fat and calories.  If you are short on time, say 20-30 minutes, you will want to work hard (reflected by a higher heart rate) for this shorter duration.  Like I said before, a leisurely 20-30 minute bike ride or stroll “ain’t gonna cut it”…  If you have more time, like 45-90 minutes, you can afford to go at a more moderate pace and still burn unwanted fat.

Here’s how:

1.  Warm up and cool down for 5-10 minutes aiming for 50-65% of your MHR.  This allows your body to “prepare” your muscles, heart, and lungs for work, as well as allowing the body recovery time after intense periods of activity.  For a 43-year-old, the warm up and recovery zone would be 88-115 bpm.  So that brisk walk I referred to earlier keeps me in the warm up/recovery zone around 100 bpm, and is not going to be enough to challenge my body and burn lots of caloriesshucks.

2. The ideal “fat burning zone” is when your heart rate falls between 65-75% of your MHR.  For a 43-year-old, that translates into 115-133 bpm.  This range is generally manageable enough to maintain for longer periods of time, allowing the body to switch from burning sugar (from bloodstream, muscles, and liver) to burning fat.  If you only exercise at this intensity for 20-30 minutes, your body will burn sugar but will not have enough time to convert over to using fat for energy.  I’m sorry to say, but that is just the way our bodies work…  The bottom line is this– if you want to lose weight (and keep it off), you have to exercise long enough to burn the fat. (Please note:  you should be able to carry on a conversation at this pace but if you can sing the national anthem while you exercise, then it’s time to pick up the pace!)

3.  If you are short on time, you can aim to do what is called “interval training” to force your body to burn off sugar more quickly and start burning fat.  In such a case, you would crank up the intensity for short periods of time (generally 90 seconds to 3 minutes) alternating with periods of recovery (90 seconds to 2 minutes).  To do so, you would aim for 85-95% of your MHR for the intense training period (150-168 bpm for a 43-year-old), which will challenge your body enough to significantly improve your physical stamina and rev the heck out of your metabolism.  Generally, this intensity cannot be sustained for long periods, so the recovery time is much appreciated (by both your body and mind!) and gets you ready for the next intense interval.  Alternating between hard and easy intensities is an excellent way to rev your metabolism, keep the body guessing, and stoke the fire for hours after your workout as well.

Here’s an example on how to incorporate these ideas into your weekly exercise schedule:

PART 1:  Choose 2-3 days a week for long, slow calorie burning exercise, maintaining your heart rate between 65-75% of your MHR, for 45-90 minutes.  This can be a brisk walk (unless you are super fit), jog, or time on an elliptical, stairclimber or stationary bike.  Changing your activities helps keep your body guessing too, so you may not want to just jog day in, day out (unless you are training for a race, of course!) in order to accomplish substantial weight loss.

PART 2:  Another 2-3 times per week, you will want to perform fat burning intervals, which is ideal for people who tend to be short on time, but still want to have an effective, intense workout.  After a 5-10 minute warm up at 50-65% MHR, start 90 second intervals of preferred activity at 85-95% MHR, alternating with 90 seconds of recovery at 50-65% MHR.  You will be working VERY hard during the intense periods, so make sure you breathe and stay focused, as a recovery period is just seconds away 😉 Repeat these intervals 5-8 times, then cool down for 5-10 minutes in the recovery HR zone.  Workout is done in 20-30 minutes!  Granted, it will be a hard 20-30 minutes, but well worth it.

Another fat burning interval option would be performing at 80-90% MHR for 3 minutes, alternating with 2 minute recovery periods at 50-65% MHR.  Repeat 5-8 times and finish with a 5-10 minutes cool down.

It is time to stop fooling yourself into thinking 30 minutes of easy-going exercise will be enough to help you accomplish your weight loss goals. Grab a heart rate monitor, calculate the heart rate ranges appropriate for you age, choose a few different activities you enjoy, and start employing these suggestions to get shape just in time for bathing suit season!

Should  you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

Happy Summer!  Happy Life!

  1. I am exercising 50 minutes at least 4 days a week, 3 miles on the track, no not running but walking fast and lifting weights, then I ride my stationary bike 30 minutes the other 2 days, and never on Sunday. Are you proud of me?

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