Monday, June 20, 2016

Which exercise is best for weight loss?

We now know that obesity is a problem. The pot belly is a house of disease. Obesity and high blood pressure go hand in hand. So do obesity and diabetes and obesity and coronary heart disease (chest pain and heart attack). Losing weight is the need of the hour. Weight loss is no more a goal for mere good looks. It is essential if one wants to lead a healthy life.

Diet is the key to weight loss. I have written on diet and weight loss, the pot belly and the evils of sugar. For some people, diet alone may not be enough. Their basal metabolic rate (B.M.R) is so low that changes in food habits are not enough to bring about the weight loss. In simple words they are just not burning enough calories. The fat burning engines of their body have gone to sleep. Exercise is the only way to increase their metabolic rate.

All of us think of walking when we are considering exercise. We feel it is the best exercise to do the job. In fact it is the first exercise that comes to our mind. Many of us have taken up walking only to give it up after a few months or weeks. Many of us have stuck to walking for years. But how many have really succeeded in losing weight by walking alone? Probably very few. All our life we have been brain washed by health experts, doctors and dieticians into thinking that walking is the best exercise. Gyms spend crores on treadmills and have entire sections dedicated to cardio. Those who can walk are encouraged to jog and even run. Marathons have evolved from a sporting competition to the new health fashion! But alas, all this is far from the truth!

Walking is not the best exercise to lose weight. Walking falls in the category of what experts call 'steady state cardio'. Walking is a basic life function and the body has evolved over the years to make it very energy efficient. So not enough muscle groups get involved when we walk. If we walk for longer distances then the muscles quickly adapt and become more energy efficient. A similar process happens when one jogs or runs at a constant pace. That's why we feel tired or get palpitations (can feel our heart beating) only for a few of the initial walks. After a week or so of walking, we can walk the same distance with ease. An energy efficient muscle will conserve calories and not burn them! However for patients with existing heart problems, walking remains a good exercise. They require an exercise that will put less strain on the heart. Heart patients should not try any other exercise without consulting their physician.

Which are then the best exercises to lose weight? To lose weight we must increase our metabolic rate. That will happen when large groups of muscles work hard. To achieve this we must do the opposite of steady state cardio. It is called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). As the name suggests periods of high intensity workouts should alternate with short intervals of rest. If you choose to exercise on a treadmill, then short bursts of brisk walking should alternate with short periods of walking slowly. People who are more fit, can do bursts of sprinting alternating with intervals of slow jogging. A similar interval training can be done in cycling and swimming. These short bursts require the muscles to work hard. By pushing the muscles out of their comfort zone we can force them to become calorie hungry. Metabolic rate and calorie burn is thereby increased.

Another way to lose weight efficiently is by weight training. By lifting weights we can exercise large muscles of the body and the exercise is not restricted to only a few muscle groups. The entire body musculature gets involved. Furthermore by pushing the muscles to their limits, there is a tremendous increase in calorie burn which lasts throughout the day as the muscles recover. We can thus achieve a sustained rise in metabolic rate. Weight training is perhaps the most efficient way to increase metabolism. 

Boot Camp exercises or Body Weight training is an alternative for those who cannot join a gym. These are sets of exercises which make use of the body weight instead of dumbbells and machines. Examples of such exercises include squats, dips, lunges and burpees. Quick sets of such exercises performed with short breaks are effective in achieving a higher metabolic rate.

Losing weight is all about diet for most of us. Both quality and quantity is important. For some people changes in diet are not enough. They need to fire up their metabolic engines to burn up those calories. Age old beliefs of types of food which increase weight, have recently been proven to be wrong. Similarly its time for a paradigm shift in our ideas about exercise. The words cholesterol and walking have now been replaced by sugar and HIIT!