Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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10 April 2008

Now I can feel you all taking a deep breath of trepidation when the subject of exercise is raised.

Many weight-loss programs tell you that you have to walk miles each day or spend a reasonable amount of time engaged in aerobic exercise if you want the pounds to melt away.

Well that's not true.

In fact, too much aerobic exercise (the kind that gets you breathing heavily and sweating) can actually hinder your weight-loss.

How can that be? Isn't exercise supposed to burn calories?

To understand why lots of aerobic exercise can slow your weight loss we have to look again at how our body responds to such things...

Whether you're exercising or not, your body is always burning calories. The more you exert yourself, the more calories you muscles and therefore your body will consume. So what can be wrong with simply exercising more to lose more?

Well the problem is that your body will outsmart you. The more walking, running, cycling and swimming you do, the fitter you become and the fitter you are, the more efficient your body becomes. By increasing the efficiency of your muscles through aerobic exercise, you actually reduce the amount of energy you burn when at rest and even when exercising.

In effect, your body fights back and weight loss by aerobic exercise gradually becomes harder without spending large amounts of the day engaged in such exercise.

That Mars bar you ate today would probably take you around 40 minutes to "work off" through aerobic exercise. If you were very fit it might take an hour.

Exercise is important to weight loss but here's another of the little secrets I discovered while on my own weight-loss journey: It's not how much exercise you do, it's when and what you do that matters.

First up -- you want to do resistance training rather than purely aerobic exercise.

Resistance training is where you have to work hard to move something (usually weights or the weight of your own body). A few minutes of resistance training can produce the same weight-loss benefits as a half-hour walk.

But it's better than that. Resistance training increases the size and number of muscle fibers in your body and apart from your brain, it's these muscle fibers that account for most of the calories you burn -- even while resting or sleeping.

Do the right resistance exercises and it takes very work to produce a useful increase in the number of calories you burn at rest and that benefit works for you 24/7.

Don't worry about becoming muscle-bound or (if you're a woman) developing unfeminine muscles -- it won't happen. Those bodybuilders you see around have to work out many hours each day and most also take steroids to get those big bulging biceps.

When done properly, as little as 5 minutes of resistance training exercise performed once every three days will make a huge difference to your resting calorie-burn rate.

What we're talking about here is ten press-ups, ten sit-ups or six bicep curls with dumbbells and ten squats.

If anyone's interested I can provide more information on how to go about setting up a very simple resistance training regime that will help burn calories without leaving you injured or exhausted. Just drop me a line through contact form.

But wait, believe it or not, there's even more!

Moderate exercise is a great appetite suppressant, and to understand how this works we need to look again at just how our body responds to such things.

The human body responds to exercise in a number of ways but one is the suppression of appetite. I suspect that when we were hunter-gatherers and our very survival depended on our ability to chase down prey and kill it, being distracted by hunger would not have helped. So, when you engage in moderate exercise, one of the first things the body does is turn off the hunger signals.

If you're trying to lose weight you can really use this quirk of physiology to your advantage. If you're feeling peckish, try going for a 10 minute walk instead. Odds are that at the end of that walk, you won't feel (nearly as) hungry.

And now a few words about the biggest enemies to weight loss -- and we're not talking food here...

On to part 5

back to part 3

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