Recent studies have shown that American’s are in for some big trouble when it comes to chronic disease and health issues. It is reported that American children have the highest percentage of overweight children in the entire world at approximately 1/3 of kids being overweight. Adults are not in any better situation as 2/3 are overweight and 1/3 are considered obese. I have written about 5 proven weight loss methods previously but want to focus on types of exercises to help guide people in their weight loss endeavors.
Exercise along with dieting is an effective weight loss strategy. The question then becomes, what is the most effective type of exercise? Very few people get the recommended about of aerobic exercise (150 minutes/week of moderate level exercise) and resistance exercise (2x/week of all major muscle groups). If one does not regularly exercise, it may be difficult to jump right to the recommended amount. Research has shown that not all exercise is the same when it comes to improving one’s weight.
One study has found that resistance exercise has been shown to reduce fat mass in overweight and obese participants. Increasing the amount of aerobic exercise on the other hand did not reduce fat mass. Aerobic exercise is typically repetitive movements such as walking, running, biking, or swimming which allow the body to utilize oxygen to sustain the exercise. Resistance exercise overloads the system so that only a limited amount of repetitions can be performed, approximately 5-15 repetitions. Rest breaks or performing resistance exercises of a different muscle group are required to allow the muscles to replenish energy stores. Reducing fat mass may be more beneficial than reducing weight alone. Resistance exercise can help reduce the “bad weight” while increasing “good weight”.
Important to note is that exercise alone has minimal effects on overall weight or BMI but will often improve overall health. Some type of energy restriction or dietary changes are crucial to a well-rounded weight loss plan. Be cautious with calorie restriction alone, as it is associated with reduced lean body mass and decreased physical activity. Decreased lean body mass and physical activity may not be beneficial to one’s overall health.
Even though exercise may have minimal effects on overall weight, that does not mean it is not beneficial to overall health. 180 pounds with 10% body fat will be much healthier than 180 pounds with 35% body fat. There are also different types of fat in the body, two primary groups are subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat just under the skin while visceral fat is the fat near the organs of the abdomen. Visceral fat is considered more dangerous as increases in visceral fat increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Many people like to think of losing the extra “skin” but losing the fat in the belly may be more beneficial. Both aerobic and resistance exercise can help reduce visceral fat.
One of the simplest ways to measure visceral fat is by measuring waist circumference. This is by no means the perfect method but decreasing waist circumference can be beneficial for overall health. Some people will notice that pants may no longer fit well around the waist despite minimal changes in overall weight. Do not worry too much! This could be a sign that you are becoming healthier.
When it comes to losing weight, people may have different motivations from appearance, to health, to peer pressure. The number one goal of weight loss should always be to become healthier. Reframing the goals of weight loss to focus on becoming healthier will help avoid the trap of unhealthy weight loss strategies that are often unsustainable. If being over-weight had no health consequences or implications on billions of dollars spent on chronic disease, weight may not be a problem at all. The problem is that one’s body composition and weight can have significant effects of one’s overall health and quality of life. If fact, muscle mass index is a better indicator of longevity in older adults than BMI. Muscles also allow the body to move and function which can improve one’s quality of life. Resistance exercise could be one way to improve both one’s quality and quantity of life.
3 Keys to Improve Your Weight
- Do not focus only on the scale. Body composition or the ratio of fat to lean muscle is more important than weight alone.
- Do not skip resistance exercises as this type of exercise is more affective in improving fat mass and lean body mass than aerobic exercise.
- Both aerobic and resistance exercise can improve visceral fat which is associated with cardiovascular disease risk independent of change in body weight.
The reasons for achieving a healthy weight are numerous. Weight loss alone should not be the only goal as lean mass can decrease certain health risks. Exercise is an effective way to help improve lean body mass and therefore overall health. Specifically, resistance exercises are a great way to improve lean body mass as these induce nice changes to skeletal muscles. Increased muscle size improves lean body mass which increases overall health. Often losses in fat mass will be accompanied by gains in lean body mass with exercising but this should not be especially concerning. Obtaining the recommended amount of both aerobic and resistance exercise should be a high priority when making changes for weight loss and health.
Hit the Weights to Improve Your Weight and Health
Drenowatz C, Hand GA, Sagner M, Shook RP, et al. The prospective association between different types of exercise and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 December ; 47(12): 2535–2541.
Overweight and Obesity Statistics. NIDDKD. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity
Preethi Srikanthan, Arun S. Karlamangla. Muscle Mass Index as a Predictor of Longevity in Older-Adults. The American Journal of Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.02.007