Sunday, August 10, 2008

Live the Fat Burning Life

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WebMD Feature from "Prevention" Magazine

By Myatt Murphy

Having trouble shedding pounds as you age?
Here, 4 simple strategies that fire up metabolism and jump-start weight loss

When you work out and the pounds still don't come off, it can be incredibly frustrating. But what you may not know is that certain habits and physical changes can undermine even the most scientifically proven weight loss strategies, especially after you reach age 40. When Australian and UK researchers reviewed nearly 100 studies on exercise and weight loss, they discovered why those extra pounds won't budge despite your best efforts. These four targeted fat-fighting tips are the key to turning the tide--so your body will finally shed the weight.


After 40, your body's metabolism begins to decline at a rate of 2 to 4% per decade, and weight loss can slow it down even more. In a University of Colorado Health Sciences study, losing a mere pound a week for 12 weeks lowered metabolism by 165 calories a day. Part of the reason is that it's nearly impossible to slim down without losing some muscle--your body's calorie-burning engine--along with the fat. Each pound you shed is about 70% fat and 30% muscle. But you can counteract the effect.

Simple Strategies:

Lift weights three times a week

It's the fastest way to build muscle and get results when the scale is stuck. "Research shows that regular strength-training can increase your resting metabolic rate by up to 8%," says Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness researcher in Quincy, MA, and author of Get Stronger, Feel Younger. In one 8-week study, women and men who did only cardio exercise lost 4 pounds but gained no muscle, while those who did half the amount of cardio and an equal amount of strength-training shed 10 pounds of fat and added 2 pounds of muscle.

Rest less

If you already strength-train, shorten the time you linger between sets. "Taking a brief, 20-second break after each set burns extra calories and accelerates metabolism more than waiting the standard 60 to 90 seconds, studies show," says Westcott.

Do double-duty moves

Trade exercises that isolate a single muscle, such as biceps curls, for multijoint, multimuscle moves like chest presses and squats. "The more muscles you engage at once, the more calories you'll burn," he says.

Break up your meals

If you're losing weight (and therefore muscle) by cutting calories, eating five small meals instead of three large ones helps keep metabolism high. Spreading calories throughout the day "keeps blood sugar levels even and controls the release of insulin that can cause your body to store more calories as fat," says Leslie Bonci, RD, MPH, director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "And every time you eat, your metabolism speeds up to digest the food."


It's a common scenario: The first 10 or 20 pounds come off easily, but then the scale won't budge. Plateaus can happen in as little as 3 weeks, find Drexel University researchers. As you drop weight, your body doesn't have to work as hard simply because there's less of you to move around, says Michele Kettles, MD, medical director of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. That means your workouts produce a smaller calorie burn. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds and lose 35, you'll melt about 100 fewer calories in an hour-long cardio class--which can slow down further weight loss. And as you get older, injuries or arthritis can make it difficult to do vigorous, high-impact activities that help compensate for this calorie deficit.

Simple Strategies:

Get your heart rate up

Watching TV or reading while you exercise can lower your workout intensity--and your calorie burn. Instead, pay attention to your pulse, suggests Kettles. For best results, stay between 60 and 80% of your maximum heart rate. To estimate your MHR, subtract your age from 220. Then multiply your MHR by 0.6 for the lower end of your target heart rate zone and by 0.8 for the upper end. For example, if you're 40, aim for 108 to 144 beats per minute. (For easier tracking, invest in a heart rate monitor.)


The more comfortable you become with a routine, exercise class, or fitness DVD, the less effective it gets. To continue to lose weight, you need to challenge your body in new ways. "Even replacing one exercise can create enough of a surprise to keep results coming," says Kettles.

Try this: The first week of every month, do a new upper-body exercise; the second week, a new lower-body one; the third, a new abs move; and the fourth, a different type of cardio (cycling instead of walking, for example).


It may happen subconsciously, but studies show that some people move less after they begin an exercise regimen. When women and men, average age 59, started to work out twice a week, their everyday activity decreased by 22%, according to research from the Netherlands. The reason for the slowdown, experts speculate, may be postworkout fatigue or the perception that if you exercise, you can afford to skimp on the small stuff. Wrong! Little activities such as standing instead of sitting, fidgeting, and walking more throughout the day can add up to an extra 350 calories burned per day, according to Mayo Clinic studies. Other research shows that a decrease in these everyday actions may shut down an enzyme that controls fat metabolism, making weight loss tougher. And even daily half-hour to hour-long workouts aren't enough to turn it back on.

Simple Strategies:

Track nonexercise activity

Record your daily step counts with a pedometer on a couple of days when you don't work out. Then calculate your average (add up your daily totals and divide by the number of days tracked). If you don't maintain at least this level of activity every day, your fat-burning ability will decline. For instance, if you normally log 5,000 steps a day but skip half of them on days you work out, it could slow weight loss by up to 50%--even though you're exercising.

Post reminders

One study showed that signs encouraging people to take the stairs increased usage by 200%. To motivate yourself, stick notes on your bathroom mirror, microwave, TV remote, steering wheel, and computer that simply say: Move more!

Set up weekly physical outings

You'll be less likely to blow it off if you make a commitment to someone else. Plan a hike or bike ride with your family, help clean out a friend's garage, or volunteer to walk your neighbor's dog.


When 35 overweight women and men started exercising, researchers found that some of them compensated for their workouts by eating as much as 270 extra calories a day--negating more than half of the calories they burned, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. "Some research shows that exercising regularly can trigger the release of ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone meant to protect the body from losing weight too quickly," says Bonci. To make matters worse, appetite also appears to increase as you approach menopause because of declining estrogen levels, according to animal studies.

Simple Strategies:

Snack before you sweat

"Exercising on an empty stomach lowers blood sugar, which can increase your appetite and set you up to overeat afterward," says Bonci. To ward off postexercise hunger, have a light (about 100 calories), carbohydrate-rich snack, such as 4 ounces of yogurt or a banana, 20 to 30 minutes before you work out.

Write before you eat

Keeping a food diary is a proven weight loss tool, but don't wait until after your meal. "When my clients record what they're going to eat, it puts their dietary habits on pause long enough to decide if their food choices are really worth it," says Bonci.

Time your meals

If possible, schedule your workouts before a meal. In studies where meals were served 15 to 30 minutes after exercise, participants ate less than those who had to wait an hour or more to eat.

Sip often

People who drink water regularly eat nearly 200 fewer calories daily than those who only consume tea, coffee, or soda, reports a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.

Bonus: Make it ice-cold water. German researchers found that drinking 6 cups of cold water a day raised metabolism by about 50 calories daily--possibly because of the work it takes to warm the fluid up to body temperature. And every little bit helps!

Make the scale move!

Log your workouts and meals, see your body change over time, and stay on target with progress reports from My Health Trackers at


Every day:
Wear a pedometer.
Eat five minimeals (300 calories each).
Log your food choices before you eat.
Drink at least six 8-ounce glasses of cold water.

Three times a week:
Lift weights, doing multimuscle moves such as chest presses. (For free routines, go to
Rest no more than 20 seconds between sets while strength-training.

Whenever you exercise:
Snack before your workout (see left for suggestions).
Schedule exercise before a meal so you eat within a half hour of finishing your workout.
Track your heart rate during cardio.

Change one move in your workout routine every Monday. For example, swap push-ups for chest presses one week, lunges for squats the next, and so on.
Plan an active outing such as hiking.

Originally Published on: July 1, 2008

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