Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for the ‘Belly Fat’ Category

Weighing in for the Holidays

Monday, October 31st, 2016

If you are typical of most Americans, your weight was probably at an annual low at the beginning of October. It is likely to creep up with the approaching holidays, peaking around New Year’s Day with an increase of about 0.7 percent. According to a study by Cornell University, those extra holiday pounds that happen in the next ten weeks take about five months to come off – that’s late April for us!

How can we resist this trend?  The Cornell study (conducted with data from a company called Withings that sells wireless scales) showed that participants who weighed themselves four or more times per week gained less weight and dropped it more quickly, by the end of January. Personally, I believe in the benefits of daily weighing, a habit that will work for you too!

Weighing in can be an effective tool of feedback.  By establishing your average daily weight within a narrow range of several pounds, it’s easy to recognize when you start gaining.   Your weight normally fluctuates from day to day within a few pounds, depending on fluid levels, salt intake and hormonal changes.  Damage control is most effective at an early stage, as you start to exceed this range, rather than waiting until you have a major project of losing ten or more pounds.

How you lose weight matters. Crash diets usually backfire because if you don't eat enough your metabolism switches to slow-mo as your body adapts to sustain itself with fewer calories when faced with potential starvation. Clinging to those calories makes it harder to take weight off. A more effective strategy is to eat a well-rounded diet of healthy foods in moderation. Portion control is key, as is limiting sugar, fat and alcohol. Exercise restraint when confronted with temptation and keep track of your party-time indulgences.

In a similar fashion, if you are always doing the same steady pace cardio workout at the same moderate intensity for days, weeks, months on end, your body will adapt to the training stress after 4-8 weeks.  As you continue this type of training, you’ll actually burn fewer calories, not more, even as you add more workouts.  To trigger fat loss, shorten the length of your exercise session and increase the intensity by adding sprint intervals.  For more on this, see my recent blog post Beat Belly Fat with Burst Training.

Stress also contributes to weight gain. The holiday season can wreak havoc with your best intentions to stay calm, cool and collected.  Stress levels rise along with hectic schedules, parties, travel and general disruption to your normal routines.  When you are in a stressful situation, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, meant to give you a quick boost of energy.

But if you’re stuck in a stressed-out zone, the body thinks you still need to fight, so it keeps making cortisol. High levels of this hormone make it harder for your body to use insulin which slows your metabolism and fuels weight gain. Helpful tips to stay calm and carry on include:

  • manage your time; keep track of your commitments
  • pace yourself to avoid over-booking throughout the month
  • make sure you get enough sleep
  • practice mindful techniques like meditative minutes and deep breathing

So prepare yourself to sail through the holidays with a minimum of overload by using simple steps to track your weight, moderate your diet, intensify your cardio workouts and manage stress.  Here’s looking to late January for being back to normal!

For more about how to beat belly fat, please see Joan Pagano’s video program “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues:  Simple Steps to a Better You

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Beat Belly Fat with Burst Training

Monday, September 5th, 2016

woman joggerAre you ready to “burst”?  And no, we’re not talking about your belly, but a style of cardio training that will fire up your fat-burning metabolism to incinerate calories both during the exercise and for hours afterwards.  If you are stuck in a metabolic rut or on a weight plateau, here’s a sure way to improve your results.

Often referred to as high intensity interval training (HIIT), the burst and recovery cycle pairs high intensity upsurges of movement with low effort, active rest intervals. The benefits are huge, including  a stronger heart, better lung function, improved muscular fitness, enhanced overall health and weight loss.  The most popular version of HIIT, called Tabata, was researched and developed by Professor Izumi Tabata in 1996, initially used with Olympic speedskaters and performed on a stationary cycle.

Burst training can be applied to any cardio activity – walking, running, swimming, cycling, etc. – and one big advantage is that it saves time.  You can reduce the amount of exercise and replace lengthy, steady pace workouts with burst and recovery cycles. Research consistently shows that interval training increases overall levels of fitness and burns more calories over a short period of time as compared to steady-state aerobic exercise (any form of cardio exercise paced at a continuous, steady rate).

If you are doing the same kind of steady pace cardio routine over and over, say walking or jogging for 30 minutes most days of the week, your body will stop improving because it has adapted to that level of exercise.  It’s the law of diminishing returns:  as your body adjusts to exercise, it tries hard to conserve rather than burn extra calories.  Your body adapts to the stimulus, burns fewer calories and eventually stops changing.  Burst training jolts your body out of complacency by stimulating all physiological systems, including fat-burning.

And here’s another huge advantage: Burst exercise sessions are shorter but the results are powerful because the body continues to burn calories as it works hard to restore itself to pre-exercise status. This “after-burn” is known as post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).  After high-intensity exercise or heavy resistance training, the body continues to require oxygen at an elevated rate.  As your metabolism remains elevated, you burn more calories in the 24 hour period following your workout.  The best part of HIIT is that most of the benefits occur during recovery!  

How to create your own workout Starting at your individual level of intensity, create your own intervals and ratio of work to recovery periods.  For example, for a ratio of 1:1 (work to recovery) break your 30-minute workout into five sequences, three minutes of moderate pace walking or jogging, followed by 3 minutes of higher intensity.  Repeat this sequence five times, and then allow a few minutes for your cool-down.  For a ratio of 1:2, do what I do:  I measure my run by the lamp posts around the reservoir in Central Park.  After I warm up at a steady pace for five minutes, I sprint from one lamp post to another, then recover for two lamp posts, and repeat 15 times.  It’s a great workout!

 In case you are concerned that vigorous exercise is unsafe or that you lack the stamina for it, recent studies show just the opposite.  Research shows that high-intensity exercise may be even better than regular aerobic activities for many patients with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, COPD, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.  While more demanding, this style of training is more efficient and often more enjoyable, safe and more effective at preventing or reversing the deficits associated with many chronic ailments. 

Remember, always get your doctor’s clearance for vigorous activity before beginning a high intensity exercise program.  This column is not intended as medical advice.