It's no secret that exercise and a healthy diet are two major keys to health, longevity and weight maintenance for everyone. All types of exercise should be commended for the benefits they provide. However, when it comes to promoting health and longevity and keeping your weight stable and healthy, there's one type of exercise that shines above all the rest.
And, it's not aerobic exercise. In fact, concentrating on aerobic exercise – low-impact, long-duration exercise such as swimming, treadmills, or aerobic classes - offers limited benefits. Putting your energy exclusively in the aerobic arena, denies you the benefit of the all-important metabolic burn.
Although these low-exertion type movements burn a few hundred calories while you are engaged, as soon as the exercise stops, so does the calorie burn. Indulge in that post-workout protein shake with added banana while catching your breath and you've easily replaced every calorie you've worked off the last hour or two huffing and puffing!
But, what's even worse, is keeping up this type of activity on a regular basis allows your body to acclimate itself to the process. This ensures that your muscles are adequately stocked with glycogen so your body will not be required to tap into your reserves of body fat even though you stick to your workout schedule religiously. This only leads to frustration and eventually defeat for many.
So, what's the solution?
The real path to increased metabolic rate involves strength training. In other words, the type of activity that builds lean muscle.
Since muscle is denser than fat, I know that sounds counter-productive if you're trying to lose weight, but the reality is, muscle tissue is active tissue and requires fuel to do its work. Even when not moving, muscle tissue is burning fuel to keep warm and be ever ready to perform when called upon at a moment's notice. This all equates to calories burned and pounds lost.
Fat tissue, on the other hand, has a much lower capacity for keeping itself warm and can perform no action that expends energy through moving mass around – something muscles are champs at.
An extra 4.5kg of lean muscle tissue uses up nearly 100 calories per day (even sitting on the couch) – this is equivalent to about one pound of fat per month. Toss in challenging physical activity and the number of calories each pound of muscle consumes per day increases and can be anywhere from two to five times as much than when sitting still all day.
Although these numbers are not large, and it doesn't seem they would make much of a difference in your weight-loss efforts, over time this effect does lead to a real change in body composition – your muscle to fat ratio.
Which do you prefer? Carrying 4.5kg of lean muscle that's burning fat all day long, or 4.5kg of fat tissue that just sits there doing nothing? The choice is obvious.
Bottom line is this:
Although metabolic rates are determined in part by our genetics, there are ways to boost your metabolic engine and the best way to do it by far is to build muscle mass. It's muscle tissue that's your greatest secret weapon in the fight against flab.
It offers a biggest number of added benefits as well such as a reduction/less likelihood of experiencing back pain, high blood pressure, and decreases in sexual performance later in life.
Guys take note – erectile dysfunction plays a much greater role in the sex lives of those who sport a pot belly. Another great reason to elevate your metabolism by adding muscle tissue through proper strength training.
All your major organs – your brain, kidneys, heart and liver account for nearly half the calories you'll burn while resting, while the digestive system, fat and the body's muscles account for the remainder.
The favoured "excuse" when explaining away excess weight gain for many people is "my metabolism is slow". But, the reality is, metabolism is not fixed and daily activities along with diet play significant roles in how well it functions. Although it may appear that others are gifted with a faster metabolism from birth, in most cases, the real truth is it's the result of active, healthy lifestyles.
You can count calories meticulously along with fats and carbs, but if you really want to lose weight successfully and keep it off, you must understand how your metabolism works and what it does for your body.
Your level of proper strength training will and does influence the rate/speed of your metabolism and that in turn affects weight gain or loss.
Whether dieting or not, if you're putting time and effort into exercising your body, why not choose exercise that builds lean muscle mass,so you can reap the benefits of an increased metabolic burn at the same time?
■ Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.