Among the top New Years resolutions world wide are the resolutions “exercise more” and “lose weight”. While they sound simple in theory, less than half of us succeed at achieving our new years resolutions. Exercising to lose weight may seem straight forward, but in fact there are variables to consider to make sure that you start and stay on the right track and that you.
Firstly, lets consider what the research says about exercise and weight loss. While being sensible, the consistent message about exercise is that more is better. In fact, the likelihood of weight loss in the absence of daily exercise is low. The current recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine for weight loss is between 225-420 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. This translates into at least 35-60 minutes of exercise per day.
This is generally achieved through aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is probably the most common form of regular exercise that people participate in as it includes walking. Aerobic exercise demands a continuous amount of oxygen to the muscle, often called “cardio.” It can involve a sustained effort at a moderate intensity exercise, or alternated short segments of high and low intensity exercise which is called interval training.
There are different ways to determine the intensity of exercise. The most common method is to use heart rate. While this is simple, it is not 100% accurate and is often not appropriate if you take any heart based medications or have a pacemaker installed. If this is not the case, the easiest way to determine your maximum heart rate is 220-age. Using this, moderate intensity exercise should raise your heart rate to a level that is between 65-75% of your maximum. Vigorous intensity exercise, such as the high intensity level used in intervals, should raise your heart rate to between 76-96% of your maximum provided it is safe to do so.
Alternatively, a scale of your perceived exertion can be used to determine exercise intensity. The scale is 0-10 with 0 being rest, 5 being a hard effort of exercise and 10 being a maximal effort of exercise. Using this scale, a moderate intensity of exercise should be a 3-4 out of 10, and a vigorous intensity of exercise should be a 5-7 out of 10.
Of course another vital part of weight management is what we eat. Research highlights the fact that the addition of dietary consideration is more likely to result in clinically significant weight loss. Importantly, nutritional changes and exercise together produce greater reductions in body fat percentage compared to either exercise only or nutritional changes only.
If using nutritional changes alone, one of the unfortunate side effects is a loss of lean tissue. Up to a quarter of the weight lost through nutrition changes alone is muscle which can result in a reduction in both strength and metabolic rate. This is why including resistance or strengthening exercises into your weight loss program is important. Resistance exercises can offset the loss of lean tissue, provided the appropriate levels of protein are maintained in your diet.
Like most things in life, weight loss is a delicate balance – enough of the right type of exercise combined with the appropriate nutritional modifications to support sustainable weight loss and offset lean tissue loss.