My thoughts and perspectives on health, science, and logic… Keep an open mind!

Posts tagged ‘Weight loss’

To Run or NOT to Run…


Over the years, you may have tried a number of different methods to get the fitness results you want.  From walking to jogging to sprinting, from body-weight calisthenics to near-maximal free weight training (and everything in between), there are all sorts of methodologies touted as “the best way” to pack on lean muscle and/or drop pounds of fat.  With all of my friends indulging in Labor Day feasts, I feel it’s appropriate to share a few thoughts on the most often touted method of reducing body fat: CARDIO. – Now before I go any further, let me say this:  I am not a “fan” of any particular type of exercise.  While I have my personal preferences, I don’t let those get in the way of being objective about what is and is not effective.  So try to keep that in mind 🙂 – If you go into any globo-gym or 24/hour fitness center across our great nation (and in most developed countries, I’d imagine), you’ll undoubtedly see a number of people occupying that gym’s cardio area.  Whether we’re talking about the overly stressed mother of three, the “weekend warrior” trying to shed a few pounds and look like he did in his football glory days, or a serious athlete looking to cut weight for a competition, the image is often the same.  People are pounding out the miles on the treadmills and ellipticals trying to get just a little bit sexier.  But why?

This look familiar?
(Courtesy of Fitnessandpower.com)

For decades, we’ve heard about “fat-torching” cardio workouts and how you’ve gotta do it, or you’ll never see results!  We’re shown images of people running their way to a flatter stomach and firmer buns, and we put two and two together.  Simple, right?

Maybe not…

You see, the notion that cardiovascular exercise will shred fat is based on our understanding of how our body catabolizes (breaks down) nutrients for energy during exercise.  Studies have shown that prolonged, steady-state exercise tends to utilize a higher proportion of fat stores than carbohydrates when compared to shorter-duration, higher-intensity workouts.  So basically, a greater percentage of your fuel comes from fat during longer-duration cardio than intense workouts like sprinting and high-intensity weight training.  So, all things being equal, we WILL burn more fat for a given amount of exercise in this “cardio zone” than in other areas.

Unfortunately, all things are usually not equal.  You see, carbohydrates are more readily burned for energy than fat is.  In terms of time taken to produce energy, carbs are WAY more efficient.  This means that you can burn many more TOTAL calories in a specific amount of time by doing something more intense and metabolizing these carbohydrates alongside fat.  So with this in mind, it’s suddenly not so clear.

– Thanks for nothing, Geoff… now I’m even MORE confused!!! –

We’ve all been in this predicament…
(Image shamelessly stolen from precisionnutrition.com)

Just take a breath, and RELAX!  The good news is that no matter what you do, you’ll be burning SOME fat.  It’s just a question of how much you use up during your workouts.  If you demand more guidance than that, however, I can give you a few pointers and tidbits:

   1.) Pick an exercise that you LIKE!  Whether it’s running on a treadmill, jogging outside, hitting an elliptical, or doing a kickboxing class, the workout is useless if you’re not actually motivated to DO IT!

   2.) Choose an activity that doesn’t aggravate any preexisting injuries or medical conditions.  This should be obvious, but don’t do an activity just because someone else does.  Do it because it works for you!

   3.) Mentally prepare yourself — Know how intense you want the exercise to be, and have a realistic impression of how long you can keep up that intensity.  I will elaborate on this more in the future.

   4.) If you’re going to do an extended cardio session on the same day as a strength/weight training workout, try to do it after you’re done with the weights.  There’s a physiological reason behind this that I’ll get into in the future, but rest assured that it will probably help you to burn a little more fat than you would otherwise.

   5.) Aside from fat burning, there are many other benefits of cardiovascular exercise that should not be ignored!  These can include better hormone balance, more restful sleep, better mood, more energy, improved capacity to recover from injury, and reduced risk of a number of preventable diseases. (More to come on this as well!)

If you want to, then by all means, RUN LIKE THE WIND!
(Image from askmen.com)

So feel free to run on into the sunset if you feel compelled to do so!  Just make sure you’re not causing injury to yourself or overtraining in the process.  While there are all sorts of ways to tweak and modify your exercise plans, the most important thing to start with is that you find something you can see doing in the long-term (and that’s usually something that’s fun and rewarding in the short-term!)

I’ll continue to expand on these ideas and give a little more scientific depth in future content (much of which will likely go on my permanent pages).  So if you’re curious about something specific, feel free to let me know!

Cheers!

– Geoff

Tipping the Scales


First off, sorry for taking so long to post another entry.  Life gets hectic sometimes, but I’m sure everyone knows that.  I’ve been working on other content for my site, and I hope to have additions to AT LEAST the Nutrition page up soon.

I also hope all of my fellow USA dwellers had a great (and safe) Fourth of July!  I’m thankful to live in a place that allows me to have this website at all, and to pursue my education so that I may provide some knowledge to my readers.  But, as July 4th is a national holiday in the USA, it brought with it one of the hallmarks of American celebration.  Namely: FOOD!

I would bet that many people are already regretting their overindulgence in hot dogs, barbecue, and other tasty Independence Day fare.  Especially since this holiday falls in the middle of beach season!  As soon as the last bottle rocket fizzles out, people start scrambling to right the wrongs we committed at the picnic table.

In that vein, everyone seems to have a question about food and their weight.  Am I too fat?  Too skinny?  What does BMI mean, anyway?!?  Many of us live and die by the dreaded scale, while others don’t even bother with diet and exercise in the first place due to fear of never seeing the right numbers.  While I’m by no means an expert on diet and nutrition, there are a few ideas that I think might be good to keep in mind.  Let’s start with the first step.  Stop, take a deep breath, and realize:

It’s ONLY a number!

Now before people get mad, let me clarify.  Your weight can certainly indicate that you have gained or lost pounds, but without context, the readout on that scale is just a number.  A number of other factors determine what meaning that number has.  Until you have an idea of how much muscle and fat you have (as well as how much water you’re retaining and how much digestive content you might be carrying), you won’t have a complete picture of what your body weight actually means.  So try to decide whether you have to lose fat, gain muscle, or both to reach your fitness goals.  Remember what I said about knowing EXACTLY what you want your outcome to be?  (Review S.M.A.R.T. principle!)  Now that we’ve accomplished that, we need to:

Understand YOUR body!

Tied up in the concept of understanding whether you actually gain or lose weight is knowing your body.  Everyone has different proportions.  Just because you’re the same height as another person doesn’t mean you should be the exact same weight.  Think about this for a minute, and it should make sense.  Are her hips and shoulders set at the same width as yours?  Does that guy carry as much weight in his legs as you do, or as little in his arms?  How long are your limbs compared to someone else’s?  And then, after this is all done, you must consider what kind of fat we’re talking about.  Visceral fat (which lines your organs) has been linked to numerous diseases and health issues when found in excessive amounts.  Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, does not carry the same strong connections to health risks (though it’s what we worry about most, since it’s what we actually SEE).  Once we take these things into account, the picture gets more complicated, doesn’t it?

A skinfold test is only as good as the person doing the pinching!

To have a more complete idea of your risk for heart disease and other ailments, it might be necessary to get some blood work done.  Knowing your cholesterol levels and free fatty acid (FFA) blood content can give you a much better indicator of how healthy your system is than the old “pinch an inch” test.  So get all of the facts, if you’re really wondering about your total health profile!  Now one more big thing that I want to stress is this:

Find a way to live COMFORTABLY!

While most of us could use some improvements in the weight or health department, a lot of people take it overboard.  They may set unrealistic goals.  Remember that, more important than actually GETTING to your target weight or shape is STAYING there.  If you had to go on a crash diet and be miserable for six months just to fit into that bikini, was it really worth it?  As clichéd as it sounds, health is not a sprint.  It’s a lifelong marathon.  We get where we want to go by making tiny adjustments to our lifestyle over time.  It doesn’t all happen overnight, and trying to force changes too quickly will USUALLY result in disappointment.  So take your time, and find slow ways to adjust to healthier habits.  Whether it’s cutting back on sodas this month, or jogging an extra 30 minutes a week before ramping it up again in the Fall, we must make the changes gradual.  So shoot for something that you can maintain in a healthy and sane fashion.  Remember:

QUANTITY of WEIGHT doesn’t always indicate QUALITY of LIFE

So eat well.  Exercise.  Get your rest.  And most of all, enjoy it!  A healthy life doesn’t happen all at once.

And I for one am thankful for that 😉

Cheers,

Geoff

A Little Fiber Goes a Long Way


While my post on what NOT to read may have given the impression that I hate Internet health articles, the reality is quite the opposite.  Some convey a very sensible and concise message.  This is of course more believable when the article isn’t trying to SELL something!  Take this Yahoo! article, for instance:

Yahoo! — The 14 Best and Worst Foods for Digestion

I tend to eat a fairly good bit of fiber (much more than most of my friends, and I am often teased for this).  I find that it not only helps with filling me up and keeping everything “regular,” but it also makes it easier for my body to handle excesses that I sometimes force upon it.  While I’m not going to dig into glycemic index talks right now, I find that tempering my meals with a healthy dose of fiber tends to help to stabilize my weight and energy levels.  While it’s not a complete fix, it seems to help with some of the cheating guilt 🙂

One can always nitpick about a few things.  I think the author should have made a better effort to distinguish between pectin and cellulose (different types of fiber) and clarified regarding which kinds of fat are most likely contribute to gastric irritation.  But the overall message is pretty clear and accurate, and that’s the big point of this post.  Try a couple of simple things like working some fiber-friendly foods into your diet.  See if it doesn’t help a bit!

Finally, make sure you couple your fiber with a good bit of water.  That tends to help things operate more smoothly, as excessive fiber intake without enough hydration can actually have an opposite effect from what you want!

Always more coming,

– Geoff