"Exercise is not real great at causing weight loss. But every study has shown that if you want to keep the weight off you have to exercise. "
-Dr. Ken Fujioka, Director of Nutrition & Metabolic Research, and the Director for Weight Management, Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, CA-
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When I wrote last week's post, Want to Prevent Weight Gain As You Age? Plan on 60 Minutes a Day of Exercise, Kick It Up a Notch, or Consider Interval Training" I wanted to include what I had learned from Dr. Ken Fujioki's March 17th NPR interview with Allison Aubrey. I couldn't track it down at the time--but I finally located it.
For me, Fujioka really adds another dimension to my understanding of why high-intensity exercise is so important as we age, and why it's so darn hard to shed pounds as I get older.
- When we lose weight--our metabolism goes down.
- When we lose weight--our body will make us think a lot about food.
- As we age, our maximum heart rate continues to drop--making it harder to burn calories
- If you want to lose the dangerous visceral abdominal fat--you have to exercise
- If you want to burn fat--you need to kick it up a notch--with intervals getting your heart rate into the 85% range.
If you feel like you're exercising a lot--and not shedding the pounds--read what Dr. Ken Fujioka has to say about getting older--and heavier.Why You Need to Exercise If You Want to Keep the Weight Off
If you lose weight from dieting, or just by eating less, or by starting a more healthy diet, there is no way to get around all the metabolic and chemical processes going on in your body that will conspire to put that weight right back on--unless you exercise!
If you lose just 10% of your weight--a very common weight loss--the body will do two things.
1. It will make you think more about food--encouraging you to put that weight right back on--which is why it's so important to have good dietary habits. Think low caloric density fruits and vegetables & low glycemic high fiber foods.
2. When you lose just 10% of your weight--your body will lower your metabolism more than 10%--more than the weight you've lost. So now you're stuck with a slower metabolism--and unless you are exercising to burn more calories, there's no way you can maintain your weight loss. You're doomed to stop your weight loss at that point--and you'll start regaining.How Interval Training Can Help Keep Your Weight Off
According to Dr. Fujioka, when you drive up your heart rate in interval training--into the 85% of your maximum heart rate zone--there are a couple of things that start going on.
1. First of all you turn on a protein in the muscles that will literally direct calories toward the muscles, and not toward your fat cells. This happens for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours after you exercise.
2. Fujioka is a big fan of interval training, as opposed to moderate intensity exercise. This idea of trying to exercise in the "fat-burning zone" around 65% of your maximum heart rate--the so-called "moderate exercise"--clearly won't help you with weight loss in the way that getting your heart rate up to and above 85% of maximum will.
3. According to Fujioka, there are very good studies that have looked at this, and have shown that if you want to lose weight and keep your weight down with exercise--that you really have to drive the heart rate up much higher than the "fat-burning zone", that unfortunately is on most of the treadmills and stationary bikes in most gyms. Just forget about it!
4. And don't forget about Professor Steve Boutcher's research at the University of New South Wales. According to Boutcher our bodies produce higher levels of a chemical compound called catecholamines during heart-rate-raising sprint-type intervals. "These are hormones that tell the fat cells to release their fat."How Safe Is Interval Training for Folks Who Are Just Starting Out? Can Anyone Do It?
"This is a really tough one," says Fujioka. "Obviously, as someone gets heavier, they have more risk factors, whether it's diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. There are some risks to doing exercise--but they're low."
At the Scripps Clinic, Fujioka & his colleagues see from 50-100 patients a day who are trying to lose weight. When they start to exercise their heart rate goes right up--because they are overweight and out-of-shape to begin with. So, unknowingly, they are going to drive their heart rate up in the very beginning. Which is exactly why exercise doesn't feel fun for them--because they aren't trained for it. So, in effect, when someone is out-of-shape--they are actually exercising in the 85%+ zone when they start out.
But bottom line, Fujioka says, "Whether we can say it's safe or not is a tough call for a physician--but the risks are relatively low as long as you aren't someone who has known heart disease and risk factors."The Australian Interval Exercise Study Just Looked at Women. Do Men Benefit From Interval Training?
Not only will men benefit from interval training, when it comes to weight loss, but they will likely benefit even more than women--because they naturally have higher metabolic rates. Men are set up better for fat-burning than women. Blame it on their testosterone and our estrogen.Getting Rid of Nasty Visceral Belly Fat with Exercise
Forget about looking at the scale when it comes to exercise and weight loss.
When you look at the connection between weight loss to exercise--you may not see changes on the scale--but you'll see changes in inches, because you're losing the visceral fat (central fat) which is the really bad fat that releases free-fatty acids that then drive up cholesterol and blood pressure--and give you heart disease and diabetes.
Pay attention to this one! Exercise--particularly this aerobic high-intensity exercise--is especially good for helping to banish belly fat, because it burns those free fatty acids so well.
And guess what? It will help even more in people prone to putting weight on in their abdominal area. Fujioka isn't talking the kind of fat you can pinch--like love handles--he means the deep down fat that surrounds our organs.
The latest research to show the benefits of high-intensity exercise on belly fat can be found in: Hiroyuki Sasai et al, "The effects of vigorous physical activity on intra-abdominal fat levels: a preliminary study of middle-aged Japanese men" Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 88:34-41, 2010.
Bottom Line: Time spent in vigorous exercise, over 6.1 METS was significantly related to reductions in intra-abdominal fat, suggesting that vigorous exercise should be prescribed to improve cardiovascular risk factors.
In case anyone has doubts about the need to ditch the belly fat--remember that it is linked to stroke, dementia, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer and diabetes. Read "This Belly Fat is Going to Be the Death of Me and Now I Finally Understand Why"
What About Centenarians Around the World? They Stay Slim and Healthy Without High-Intensity Aerobic Exercise.
Absolutely true! But they have a completely different lifestyle--an active lifestyle--so they don't have to be marathon runners to keep their weight down.
And yes, the active lifestyle approach can also work. That is, if you live in a community where you can walk everywhere--as in Europe. Through the course of the day the long-living centenarians of Sardinia or Okinawa are doing physical work, and walking everywhere, to do their shopping, visiting, and daily work.
In the U.S. we drive everywhere, and we're always trying to figure out the closest place to park our cars, to find the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B. Time is of the essence. This is not exactly a lifestyle conducive to losing weight.
Remember, people who have successfully maintained their weight loss burn off 2800 calories a week--which is quite a lot--and most of it comes from taking 11,000 steps a day (that's 5.5 miles), in addition to high intensity exercise for at least 2 days a week--in the range of 6 METS--like jogging for about 1 hour. Click here to read "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Losing Weight, Exercise, Stress, and Cardiovascular Risk from an Expert, Dr. Sharon Alger-Mayer. The Best Diet, How Much Exercise, the Hormone Stress Connection, the Best Phytonutrients, and the Healthiest Carbs"
Fujioka also reminds us of the Okinawan custom, "hara hachi bu", which is eating until you are only 80% full--or leaving 15-20% of the food on your plate. In the U.S. we are "plate cleaners", which is just one more reason why we have to resort to high-intensity exercise.That Annoying Decreasing Maximum Heart Rate --Why It Makes Weight Loss So Tough As We Get Older
Now this is depressing!
Think about the standard formula to calculate your maximum heart rate. Take 220 and subtract your age. If you're 60 years old--like me--your maximum heart rate becomes 160. If I'm going to exercise in intervals of 85% of my maximum, that means I need to get my heart rate up to 136. (Truth be told--since I've been exercising for years--I kick this up a notch--to 148--because 136 feels more like moderate to me)
Compare this to someone who is 30 years old. 85% of their maximum heart rate is 161. When I've taken hour-long spinning classes with my daughter-in-law, who is 31, she can easily burn in the range of 600 calories an hour. I'm working and sweating just as hard as she is, and the best I can do is get that calorie burn up to 340 calories for an hour--and that's really kicking butt. The depressing news is that it only gets harder to kick that heart rate up the older we get.
Here's what Dr. Fujioka has to say about the heart rate as we get older.
And that's in addition to exercise. You start to need the cumulative effect of an active lifestyle plus the workout the older you get. This is so unfair.
"Now it gets really hard to drive your heart rate way up as you get older. The formula for figuring out your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. As you can see, as you get older you just can't get your heart rate way up there to drive those calories down."
"So now you're looking more at also trying to get active throughout the day. (Think: adding a step counter to your repertoire--click here)
My Big Tip: Get Yourself a Heart Rate Monitor. There is no better way to know exactly how hard you are exercising. There is no other way to do interval training. How else are you really really going to know if you are working at 85% of your maximum heart rate, or when you need to dial it down to the 65% zone. I've been using a heart rate monitor for years--I'm now on number 2. My battery just died on Thursday and I need to get it replaced ASAP. It's just no fun not knowing how hard I'm working, and how many calories I've burned.
My Must-Have All-Time Favorite Equipment - I wouldn't want to exercise without my F6 Polar Heart Rate Monitor. It's set up for my fitness level, my minimum & maximum aerobic heart rates, my age, and weight. It records how long I'm working out in the aerobic range, my highest, lowest, & average heart rates, and how many calories I'm burning. I know when I need to kick it up a notch, and when I'm working too hard. And all my exercise sessions are saved so I can see what I've done for the past week. It's motivating & keeps my honest. For a great guide to exercising with a heart rate monitor, click here.
Cost: I got mine for about $100 online.
My Passover gripe. It is really hard to eat a "veganish diet" while keeping Passover. No beans. No soy. No rice. No corn. No grains of any kind. Thank goodness for quinoa. No dairy, or eggs, or cheese, or fish, or chicken, or meat. I'm sick of whole wheat matzoh & almond butter. I'm sick of just salads. And yes I've eaten some salmon, cooked with eggs, and made a scrumptious Mina de Masa.