Aging Gracefully Blog

Archive for the ‘Weight control’ 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.

The Dumbbell Diet

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Digital scale with blue tape measureTo slim down and shape up, should you focus on losing inches or losing pounds? The scale cannot differentiate between fat pounds and muscle pounds, so while your scale weight may not budge as you lose body fat and gain lean muscle, the proof will be in the fit of your clothing.

Your weight is composed of two separate elements: fat and lean body mass (muscle, bone, organs, and fluids). Body composition is the "quality" of your weight as opposed to the "quantity" of your weight as measured by the scale. You can gauge your body-fat status roughly by the fit of a favorite pair of jeans. One pound of fat takes up more space than one pound of muscle, so as you lose fat you literally shrink. (Think of meat on display at the butcher's: a 3-pound roast is small compared to 3 pounds of fat).

Some people who appear to be lean and are of normal weight according to the charts can be qualitatively measured as overfat or "skinny fat." For example, a 20-year-old woman who does not lift weights will gain about five pounds of fat and lose five pounds of muscle by the time she's 50. This means that even if you maintain your scale weight perfectly over time, subtle changes are occurring in your body composition that can affect your health and appearance.

Lifting weights will sculpt the contours of your body. You will have a flatter belly, shapelier arms, firmer legs, and you'll look great in a little black dress.  But body composition and body shape are about more than just looking good: they are also closely related to your health. With optimal body composition, including a high ratio of lean body mass to fat, you minimize your risk of developing diseases that are related to obesity, like heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, and some cancers.

Weight loss from exercise is primarily fat loss. As you exercise regularly, you will reduce fat stores from the whole body, and you will develop leaner, toned muscles instead. The gain in lean muscle tissue and loss of excess fat will result in trimmer contours and smaller circumferences regardless of the number of pounds lost.

(c) Copyright - Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

 

Can You Beat Belly Fat?

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Woman measuring her waistlineIf you are frustrated by stubborn belly fat, you're not alone!  It's a common aspect of menopause, affecting not only the way we feel and look in clothing, but also our health risk profile.  So what is the story:  Is there any way we can defeat it?

First, the facts.  In 2012 the International Menopause Society conducted a large review of decades of research and concluded that the hormonal shifts of menopause trigger a redistribution of body fat, causing it to accumulate in the abdomen.  Last year, researchers at the Mayo Clinic compared fat tissue in pre- and postmenopausal women and found that at the cellular level two enzymes that work to store fat were more active in the postmenopausal women, primarily because of the drop in estrogen.

While it's been documented that women gain an average of ten pounds as the metabolism slows down around the time of menopause, studies also show they can lose weight through diet and exercise.  As published in the journal Menopause in 2012, one study randomly assigned 17,000 postmenopausal women to either a control group or one that was put on a healthy diet emphasizing foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  After a year the healthy diet group had fewer hot flashes and was three times as likely to have lost weight.

Another study called the Women's Healthy Lifestyle Project followed 535 premenopausal women as they went through menopause.  About half of them were assigned to follow a low-calorie diet and to burn an extra 1000 to 1500 calories a week through physical activity.  After five years the women in the diet and exercise group saw greater reductions in their waist lines and were more likely to have remained at or below their starting weight.

So the proof is in the pudding!  We can beat belly fat by tightening our belts and increasing our exercise output.  Create a lifestyle routine to cut unnecessary calories, make healthy food choices, rev up your cardio in terms of both volume and intensity, and  lift weights to boost your metabolism.

(A reported by Anahad O'Connor in the Ask Well column of the NewYork Times, 4/1/14)

Burn Calories or Fat to Lose Weight?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Which contributes to greater weight loss:  exercising in the "fat-burning" zone or at a higher level of intensity? The Burn Calories or Fat to Lose Weight?answer lies in the number of calories burned not in which fuel substrate the body uses for energy.

To burn the most calories, you need to exercise at higher intensities.  For example, you burn more calories running for 30 minutes than walking for the same amount of time.  Running consumes calories from readily available fuel of carbohydrates. Walking at a more leisurely pace utilizes slower-burning fat for fuel; however you are using fewer calories per minute than with more intense exercise.

Higher intensity exercise also offers another benefit for weight loss in that it temporarily suppresses your appetite.  A recent study showed that cyclists who rode stationary bikes hard for 30 minutes consumed far fewer calories afterward than when they rode at a more moderate pace.  They also had lower blood levels of the hormone ghrelin, a known appetite stimulant.

According to other new research high intensity interval raining (HIIT), short bursts of intense exercise alternating with recovery periods, may have the potential to lower abdominal fat by creating a surge in hormones that have been shown to drive fat breakdown, especially deep abdominal fat.

So we can conclude that high intensity exercise contributes to weight loss by burning calories, suppressing appetite and reducing abdominal fat.  If you are a fan of moderate exercise, there are several ways to ramp up your program:

  • Know your heart rate training range which determines how hard you should work for light, moderate and high intensity levels.
  • Intersperse faster paced intervals into your moderate cardio activity.  Allow twice as long to recover from a high intensity interval, i.e. if you sprint for 1 minute, allow two minutes of active rest.
  • Add intervals of cardio activity into your strength training program, so that you keep your heart rate elevated continuously.

For more posts on this topic, please see:

Cardio Tune-Up

The 7-Minute Workout

Have You Got IT?  Maximize the Minutes in Your Workout

 

Cardio Tune Up: How to Get Real Results from Your Cardio Workout

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Are you dedicated to your cardio routine….and not seeing results?  Stuck in a metabolic rut or on a weight plateau? How savvy are
you about manipulating the variables to achieve your goals?

  • Do you know your heart rate training range? It's easy to figure out and check manually. It just takes two fingers and a watch with a second hand.  Or you can use a device like a heart rate monitor. There are a lot of high tech choices now that make the old bulky black jobs so old-fashioned.
  • Are you using it to create intervals in your workout? Interval training is all the rage. By adding intervals of faster paced, higher intensity activity into your workout you train your heart to work in the higher ranges plus you burn more calories. Speed up, recover and repeat at a ratio of 1:2, one minute of push followed by two minutes of recovery.
  • Do you vary your routine by using workouts of different length and intensity? Create a cycle of three workouts, always allowing for at least a 5 minute warm up and cool down.  Do each of the workouts twice a week using any cardio activity.
    • High Gear:  30 minutes total, sustaining the fastest pace you can for 20 minutes.
    • Intervals:  45 minutes total, alternating between high intensity and recovery.
    • Long, slow distance:  60 minutes total, using a steady, moderate pace for the entire time.

Make your workouts more fun, interesting and challenging and you will get results! Contact us with your questions and comments on Facebook.