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Exercise and Weight Control
Just about everybody seems to be interested in weight control. Some of us weigh just the right
amount, others need to gain a few pounds. Most of us "battle the bulge" at some time in our life.
Whatever our goals, we should understand and take advantage of the important role of exercise
in keeping our weight under control.
Carrying around too much body fat is a major nuisance. Yet excess body fat is common in
modern-day living. Few of today's occupations require vigorous physical activity, and much of
our leisure time is spent in sedentary pursuits.
Recent estimates indicate that 34 million adults are considered obese (20 percent above
desirable weight). Also, there has been an increase in body fat levels in children and youth over
the past 20 years. After infancy and early childhood, the earlier the onset of obesity, the greater
the likelihood of remaining obese.
Excess body fat has been linked to such health problems as coronary heart disease, high blood
pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, arthritis and certain forms of cancer. Some evidence now exists
showing that obesity has a negative effect on both health and longevity.
Exercise is associated with the loss of body fat in both obese and normal weight persons. A
regular program of exercise is an important component of any plan to help individuals lose, gain
or maintain their weight.
Overweight or Overfat?
Overweight and overfat do not always mean the same thing. Some people are quite muscular
and weigh more than the average for their age and height. However, their body composition, the
amount of fat versus lean body mass (muscle, bone, organs and tissue), is within a desirable
range. This is true for many athletes. Others weigh an average amount yet carry around too much
fat. In our society, however, overweight often implies overfat because excess weight is commonly
distributed as excess fat. The addition of exercise to a weight control program helps control both
body weight and body fat levels.
A certain amount of body fat is necessary for everyone. Experts say that percent body fat for
women should be about 20 percent, 15 percent for men. Women with more than 30 percent fat
and men with more than 25 percent fat are considered obese.
How much of your weight is fat can be assessed by a variety of methods including underwater
(hydrostatic) weighing, skinfold thickness measurements and circumference measurements. Each
requires a specially trained person to administer the test and perform the correct calculations.
From the numbers obtained, a body fat percentage is determined. Assessing body composition has
an advantage over the standard height-weight tables because it can help distinguish between
"overweight" and "overfat."
An easy self-test you can do is to pinch the thickness of the fat folds at your waist and
abdomen. If you can pinch an inch or more of fat (make sure no muscle is included) chances are
you have too much body fat.
People who exercise appropriately increase lean body mass while decreasing their overall fat
level. Depending on the amount of fat loss, this can result in a loss of inches without a loss of
weight, since muscle weighs more than fat. However, with the proper combination of diet and
exercise, both body fat and overall weight can be reduced.
Energy Balance: A Weighty Concept
Losing weight, gaining weight or maintaining your weight depends on the amount of calories
you take in and use up during the day, otherwise referred to as energy balance. Learning how to
balance energy intake (calories in food) with energy output (calories expended through physical
activity) will help you achieve your desired weight.
Although the underlying causes and the treatments of obesity are complex, the concept of energy
balance is relatively simple. If you eat more calories than your body needs to perform your day's
activities, the extra calories are stored as fat. If you do not take in enough calories to meet your
body's energy needs, your body will go to the stored fat to make up the difference (Exercise helps
ensure that stored fat, rather than muscle tissue, is used to meet your energy needs.) If you eat just
about the same amount of calories to meet your body's energy needs, your weight will stay the same.
On the average, a person consumes between 800,000 and 900,000 calories each year! An
active person needs more calories than a sedentary person, as physically active people require
energy above and beyond the day's basic needs. All too often, people who want to lose weight
concentrate on counting calorie intake while neglecting calorie output. The most powerful
formula is the combination of dietary modification with exercise. By increasing your daily
physical activity and decreasing your caloric input you can lose excess weight in the most
efficient and healthful way.
Each pound of fat your body stores represents 3,500 calories of unused energy. In order to lose one
pound, you would have to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories by either taking in 3,500 less
calories over a period of time than you need or doing 3,500 calories worth of exercise. It is
recommended that no more than two pounds (7,000 calories) be lost per week for lasting weight loss.
Adding 15 minutes of moderate exercise, say walking one mile, to your daily schedule will use
up 100 extra calories per day. (Your body uses approximately 100 calories of energy to walk one
mile, depending on your body weight.) Maintaining this schedule would result in an extra 700
calories per week used up, or a loss of about 10 pounds in one year, assuming your food intake
stays the same. To look at energy balance another way, just one extra slice of bread or one extra
soft drink a day - or any other food that contains approximately 100 calories - can add up to ten
extra pounds in a year if the amount of physical activity you do does not increase.
lf you already have a lean figure and want to keep it you should exercise regularly and eat a
balanced diet that provides enough calories to make up for the energy you expend. If you wish to
gain weight you should exercise regularly and increase the number of calories you consume until
you reach your desired weight. Exercise will help ensure that the weight you gain will be lean
muscle mass, not extra fat.
The Diet Connection
A balanced diet should be part of any weight control plan. A diet high in complex
carbohydrates and moderate in protein and fat will complement an exercise program. It should
include enough calories to satisfy your daily nutrient requirements and include the proper number
of servings per day from the basic four food groups: vegetables and fruits (4 servings), breads
and cereals (4 servings), milk and milk products (2 - 4 depending on age) and meats and fish (2).
Experts recommend that your daily intake not fall below 1200 calories unless you are under a
doctor's supervision. Also, weekly weight loss should not exceed two pounds.
Remarkable claims have been made for a variety of "crash" diets and diet pills. And some of
these very restricted diets do result in noticeable weight loss in a short time. Much of this loss is
water and such a loss is quickly regained when normal food and liquid intake is resumed. These
diet plans are often expensive and may be dangerous. Moreover, they do not emphasize lifestyle
changes that will help you maintain your desired weight. Dieting alone will result in a loss of
valuable body tissue such as muscle mass in addition to a loss in fat.
How Many Calories
The estimates for number of calories (energy) used during a physical activity are based on
experiments that measure the amount of oxygen consumed during a specific bout of exercise for a
certain body weight.
The energy costs of activities that require you to move your own body weight, such as walking
or jogging, are greater for heavier people since they have more weight to move. For example, a
person weighing 150 pounds would use more calories jogging one mile than a person jogging
alongside who weighs 115 pounds. You can always check to see how many calories are you burning with any exercise.
Just log in into our service at at www..com and go to the Fitness tab.
Enter the activity you want to do and you will immediately see the caloric burn out, calculated specifically for you.
Sample Energy Expenditure Chart for a 150 lbs - 68 kg person
|A. Sedentary Activities
|Lying down or sleeping || 90 |
| Sitting quietly || 84 |
| Sitting and writing, card
playing, etc. || 114 |
| B. Moderate Activities
|| (150-350) |
| Bicycling (5 mph) || 174 |
| Dancing (Ballroom) || 210 |
| Golf (2-some, carrying clubs) || 324 |
|Light housework, cleaning, etc. || 246 |
|Swimming (crawl, 20 yards/min) || 288 |
| Volleyball (recreational) || 264 |
| Walking (2 mph) || 198 |
|C. Vigorous Activities || More than 350
| Basketball (recreational) || 450 |
| Bicycling (13 mph) || 612 |
| Circuit weight training || 756 |
| Football (touch, vigorous) || 498 |
| Ice Skating (9 mph) || 384 |
| Racquetball < || 588 |
| Jogging (10 minute mile, 6 mph) || 654 |
| Scrubbing Floors || 440 |
| X-country Skiing ( 5 mph) || 690 |
*(Sources: William D. McArdle, Frank I. Katch,
Victor L. Katch, "Exercise Physiology: Energy,
Nutrition and Human Performance" (2nd edition),
Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, 1986; Melvin H.
Williams, "Nutrition for Fitness and Sport," William
C. Brown Company Publishers, Dubuque, 1983.)
Exercise and Modern Living
One thing is certain. Most people do not get enough exercise in their ordinary routines. All of
the advances of modern technology - from electric can openers to power steering - have made
life easier, more comfortable and much less physically demanding. Yet our bodies need activity,
especially if they are carrying around too much fat. Satisfying this need requires a definite plan,
and a commitment. There are two main ways to increase the number of calories you expend:
1. Start a regular exercise program if you do not have one already.
2. Increase the amount of physical activity in your daily routine.
The best way to control your weight is a combination of the above. The sum total of calories
used over time will help regulate your weight as well as keep you physically fit.
Before looking at what kind of regular exercise program is best, let's look at how you can
increase the amount of physical activity in your daily routine to supplement your exercise
- Recreational pursuits such as gardening on weekends, bowling in the office league, family
outings, an evening of social dancing, and many other activities provide added exercise. They are
fun and can be considered an extra bonus in your weight control campaign.
- Add more "action" to your day. Walk to the neighborhood grocery store instead of using the
car. Park several blocks from the office and walk the rest of the way. Walk up the stairs instead of
using the elevator; start with one flight of steps and gradually increase.
- Change your attitude toward movement. Instead of considering an extra little walk or trip to
the files an annoyance, look upon it as an added fitness boost. Look for opportunities to use your
body. Bend, stretch, reach, move, lift and carry. Time-saving devices and gadgets eliminate
drudgery and are a bonus to mankind, but when they substitute too often for physical activity they
can demand a high cost in health, vigor and fitness.
- These little bits of action are cumulative in their effects. Alone, each does not burn a huge
amount of calories. But when added together they can result in a sizable amount of energy used
over the course of the day. And they will help improve your muscle tone and flexibility at the
What Kind of Exercise?
Although any kind of physical movement requires energy (calories), the type of exercise that
uses the most energy is aerobic exercise. The term "aerobic" is derived from the Greek word
meaning "with oxygen." Jogging, brisk walking, swimming, biking, cross-country skiing and
aerobic dancing are some popular forms of aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercises use the body's large muscle groups in continuous, rhythmic, sustained
movement and require oxygen for the production of energy. When oxygen is combined with food
(which can come from stored fat) energy is produced to power the body's musculature. The longer
you move aerobically, the more energy needed and the more calories used. Regular aerobic
exercise will improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, the ability of your heart, lungs, blood
vessels and associated tissues to use oxygen to produce energy needed for activity. You'll build a
healthier body while getting rid of excess body fat.
In addition to the aerobic exercise, supplement your program with muscle strengthening and
stretching exercises. The stronger your muscles, the longer you will be able to keep going during
aerobic activity, and the less chance of injury.
How Much? How Often?
Experts recommend that you do some form of aerobic exercise at least three times a week for a
minimum of 20 continuous minutes. Of course, if that is too much, start with a shorter time span
and gradually build up to the minimum. Then gradually progress until you are able to work
aerobically for 20-40 minutes. If you need to lose a large amount of weight, you may want to do
your aerobic workout five times a week.
It is important to exercise at an intensity vigorous enough to cause your heart rate and
breathing to increase. How hard you should exercise depends to a certain degree on your age, and
is determined by measuring your heart rate in beats per minute.
The heart rate you should maintain is called your target heart rate, and there are several ways
you can arrive at this figure. The simplest is to subtract your age from 220 and then calculate 60
to 80 percent of that figure. Beginners should maintain the 60 percent level, more advanced can
work up to the 80 percent level. This is just a guide however, and people with any medical
limitations should discuss this formula with their physician.
You can do different types of aerobic activities, say walking one day, riding a bike the next.
Make sure you choose an activity that can be done regularly, and is enjoyable for you. The
important thing to remember is not to skip too many days between workouts or fitness benefits
will be lost. If you must lose a few days, gradually work back into your routine.
The Benefits of Exercise in a Weight Control Program
The benefits of exercise are many, from producing physically fit bodies to providing an outlet
for fun and socialization. When added to a weight control program these benefits take on
We already have noted that proper exercise can help control weight by burning excess body fat.
It also has two other body-trimming advantages 1) exercise builds muscle tissue and muscle uses
calories up at a faster rate than body fat; and 2) exercise helps reduce inches and a firm, lean
body looks slimmer even if your weight remains the same.
Remember, fat does not "turn into" muscle, as is often believed. Fat and muscle are two
entirely different substances and one cannot become the other. However, muscle does use calories
at a faster rate than fat which directly affects your body's metabolic rate or energy requirement.
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy required to sustain the body's functions
at rest and it depends on your age, sex, body size, genes and body composition. People with high
levels of muscle tend to have higher BMRs and use more calories in the resting stage.
Some studies have even shown that your metabolic rate stays elevated for some time after
vigorous exercise, causing you to use even more calories throughout your day.
Additional benefits may be seen in how exercise affects appetite. A lean person in good shape
may eat more following increased activity, but the regular exercise will burn up the extra calories
consumed. On the other hand, vigorous exercise has been reported to suppress appetite. And,
physical activity can be used as a positive substitute for between meal snacking.
Better Mental Health
The psychological benefits of exercise are equally important to the weight conscious person.
Exercise decreases stress and relieves tensions that might otherwise lead to overeating. Exercise
builds physical fitness which in turn builds self-confidence, enhanced self-image, and a positive
outlook. When you start to feel good about yourself, you are more likely to want to make other
positive changes in your lifestyle that will help keep your weight under control.
In addition, exercise can be fun, provide recreation and offer opportunities for companionship.
The exhilaration and emotional release of participating in sports or other activities are a boost to
mental and physical health. Pent-up anxieties and frustrations seem to disappear when you're
concentrating on returning a serve, sinking a putt or going that extra mile.
Tips to Get You Started
Hopefully, you are now convinced that in order to successfully manage your weight you must
include exercise in your daily routine. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Check with your doctor first. Since you are carrying around some extra "baggage," it is wise
to get your doctor's "OK" before embarking on an exercise program.
2. Choose activities that you think you'll enjoy. Most people will stick to their exercise
program if they are having fun, even though they are working hard.
3. Set aside a regular exercise time. Whether this means joining an exercise class or getting up
a little earlier every day, make time for this addition to your routine and don't let anything get in
your way. Planning ahead will help you get around interruptions in your workout schedule, such
as bad weather and vacations.
4. Set short term goals. Don't expect to lose 20 pounds in two weeks. It has taken awhile for you
to gain the weight, it will take time to lose it. Keep a record of your progress and tell your friends
and family about your achievements.
5. Vary your exercise program. Change exercises or invite friends to join you to make your
workout more enjoyable. There is no "best" exercise - just the one that works best for you. It
won't be easy, especially at the start. But as you begin to feel better, look better and enjoy a new
zest for life, you will be rewarded many times over for your efforts.
Tips to Keep You Going
- Adopt a specific plan and write it down.
- Keep setting realistic goals as you go along, and remind yourself of them often.
- Keep a log to record your progress and make sure to keep it up-to-date.
- Include weight and/or percent body fat measures in your log. Extra pounds can easily
Upgrade your fitness program as you progress.
- Enlist the support and company of your family and friends.
- Update others on your successes.
- Avoid injuries by pacing yourself and including a warm-up and cool down period as
part of every workout.
- Reward yourself periodically for a job well done!
Source: President's Council on Physical Fitness and
Adapted by Editorial Staff, October 2006
Last update, July 2008