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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!

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Are Those Two Little OREOS Worth It?

In Exercise, Snacking on March 14, 2010 at 4:01 PM

You pop that second cookie into your mouth, savor it for a few seconds, chew and swallow.  Then you start to think about the calories.  You say to yourself, “It’s OK. I’ll just walk an extra few minutes tomorrow to work it off”.  Hmmm…

Although it is true that regular exercise is key to maintaining a healthy weight, the amount of exercise required to burn those extra snack calories might not be worth the few moments of enjoyment you got from eating the cookies in the first place:

Say you eat two Oreo cookies, equivalent to about 140 calories.  If you weigh 150 pounds, you will have to walk more than an hour at a leisurely pace (2.0 mph), or about 45 minutes at a brisk pace (3.5 mph), just to burn off those two measly cookies.  That is quite a time and effort commitment for just a few minutes of pleasure, don’t you think?  (As a side note, the more you weigh, the more weight you have to push around, so you will burn more calories in the same amount of time as a smaller person.)

If you are a sweets lover, as I am, don’t let these figures completely discourage you.  By adding more activity to your life, you CAN allow yourself a few indulgences once in a while.  Just be conscious of how much time you are being active during the entire day.  Activities can be done all at one time, or intermittently over the day.   Let’s take a look at how many calories a 150 pound person would burn off doing a number of activities for 30 minutes:

Pacing while talking on the telephone:  70 calories  (much more than texting!)

Walking the dog : 120 calories  (provided there are not too many “sniff” stops…)

Doing your own housework:  100 calories  (150 calories if you are scrubbing floors, washing windows, heavy vacuuming)

Gardening:  150 calories

Water aerobics:  150 calories

Brisk walking at 4.0 mph pace:  140 calories

Jogging at a 10 minute mile pace:  300 calories

Hill hiking:  200 calories

Ice skating:  240 calories

Dancing:  200 calories

Now, what if you ate a peach instead of the cookies?  Because a small peach only has about 50 calories, it would take a mere 10 minutes of brisk walking to work that off.  Fruit can satisfy a sweet tooth while providing your body with essential nutrients as well.

Making smarter snack choices is just part of the equation.  You also need to exercise regularly, not just when you’re trying to burn off a snacking binge.  Don’t feel like walking today?  Then pick some other activity that is enjoyable to you.  Exercise should not be drudgery because you won’t stick with it.  What is important is that you keep moving, no matter what it is that you are doing.

Don’t think of exercise as just a way to burn calories either.  Physical activity provides a host of health benefits besides helping you keep your weight in check:  relieving stress, controlling blood pressure, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, aiding digestion, strengthening bones and muscles, boosting energy, and improving sleep.

Another key point:  engaging in an activity that gives you pleasure can alleviate some of the tension and boredom that may trigger mindless and/or compulsive eating.

If you already engage regularly in physical activity, it is probably OK for you to indulge in your favorite cookie now and then.  But remember, being aware of what you are eating and how hard you’ll have to work to get rid of those extra calories can help you make better snack choices and keep pounds from creeping up.

Get up and get moving already 😉

Adding Exercise to Every Day

In Exercise, Weight Loss on January 19, 2010 at 11:44 AM

“I really want to lose weight, but I have no time for exercise…”

So you have heard time and time again that the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is through a faithful combination of diet and exercise.  While this is most definitely true, finding time to exercise is the most common obstacle to sticking with a regular exercise routine. 

Did you know that many things you may not think of as exercise are actually considered moderate activities that help raise your heart rate and burn calories??  While formal exercise is still the best way to burn calories, tone your heart, and build muscles, adding more “activities of daily living” to your routine can make a difference too!

Here are some suggestions for the contingent of multitaskers out there:

1.  Add more steps to your day: 

Park your car farther away at the grocery store, mall, post office, coffee shop, office, etc…  (you have heard this one before, haven’t you???)

At the grocery store, walk around the entire store (allowing you to check out sale items and add more necessities to your list) before you actually begin to shop. 

If you go out for lunch or coffee, choose a place within walking distance.  

While watching “Timmy’s” soccer game, walk laps around the perimeter of the field. 

Instead of emailing a colleague down the hall, deliver the message in person. 

Pace around the room while talking on the phone rather than sitting on your duff text messaging all your friends.

2.  Stay on top of household chores and cherish that feeling of productivity:

Vacuuming, carrying laundry up and down stairs, raking leaves, shoveling snow, sweeping the sidewalk, mowing the lawn, scrubbing the shower, washing the floors, weeding the garden,and cleaning out the basement or garage all involve your arm and leg muscles and allow you to burn up to 250 calories per hour. 

Warning—do not do all these activities in one day or you might find it impossible to get out of bed the next morning ;-P

3.  Turn TV time into activity time:

Put the treadmill or stationary bike in front of the TV and catch up on the daily news.

Do jumping jacks, jog lightly or march in place during the show and do sit-ups, push-ups, and stretches during the commercials.

Do leg lifts with ankle weights and arm/shoulder exercises using 5-10# dumbbells while watching the tough get tougher on shows such as Survivor, The Biggest Loser, or Dancing with the Stars.  You will feel like kindred spirits!  WAAAH!

4.   Track your daily steps using a pedometer:

To start, add up the total steps you take for a week and divide by 7.  This is your initial daily average.

Add 500 steps to your daily average and aim to achieve that goal every day for the next week.  (i.e. if average is 3500 steps, set a goal to reach 4000 steps a day)

Each week, continue to add 500 steps as you successfully reach each consecutive goal, up to a total of 10,000 steps per day (approximately 5 miles).   You may find it difficult to achieve the higher levels without including a daily walk outdoors or on the treadmill—this can be a great motivator for those Type A personalities out there!!!

Some final thoughts:

Some people think that they must carve out at least a 30 minute chunk of time to devote to exercise, otherwise it is a waste.  THIS IS SO NOT TRUE!  Ten minutes is better than zero minutes!  Try breaking your activity up into 10 or 15 minute segments to afford you more opportunities to squeeze in exercise.  Keep an exercise journal to tally your daily minutes.

Set a long term goal to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week for general good health.   When it comes to losing weight and keeping off those unwanted pounds, you may want to strive for 60-90 minutes.

So, clean up that house and yard, dance to the songs on American Idol, and stop sharking in parking lots waiting for the closest spot!!!

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