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Exercise and Cellulite
We all know what cellulite looks like, but misconceptions prevail.
The first thing you should know is that, in the true medical sense, cellulite is
simply plain old fat. Yet it does have one defining characteristic - a dimpled,
cottage-cheese, orange-peel look. Here's why: Everybody has connective tissue
that separates fat cells into compartments. While men tend to have horizontal
or crisscross patterns to those compartments, women's compartments have a
honeycomb appearance, giving fat a greater chance to protrude or bulge, hence
the cottage-cheese effect.
As a result, women are more likely to develop cellulite than men, mainly
around the hips and thighs. However, men can develop the condition, too.
Although cellulite becomes more noticeable with age, largely because the skin
gets thinner over time, it generally strikes individuals in their 30s.
Of course, not everybody will develop cellulite in their lifetime. That's
because genetics determines where your fat cells are and how many fat cells you
have. Activity level is another crucial factor associated with cellulite. If you
exercise regularly, you'll decrease your odds of developing cellulite, or if you
do, the dimpled look won't be quite as pronounced.
Beware of the Quick Fix
Unfortunately, too many people still hang on to the idea of quick
and easy fixes. Beware of cellulite cream makers, medical procedures
like liposuction or cosmetic treatments like body wraps. They don't
work. No cream applied to the skin can penetrate the skin and
rearrange the fat cells beneath the surface. Liposuction is designed
to remove excess deposits of fat, but it won't change the appearance
of fat. As for body wraps, the effect is only temporary. Fat is
compressible, so when you do the wrap, it will smooth your skin, but
by the next day, your skin will be back to normal.
Another misconception is that dieting alone can zap fat.
Although there are diets that make you lose weight, at least
one quarter of the weight lost is muscle, which lowers your
metabolism. If you return to your usual eating habits, you'll
likely regain more weight than you lost because your
metabolism is slower.
The Cellulite Solution
So what can you do to diminish the appearance of cellulite?
Experts recommend daily cardio exercise combined with two to
three strength-training sessions a week and a healthy diet.
The good news is that there's actual proof that this
approach works. Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research
director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., and author
of No More Cellulite (Perigee, 2003), designed a
cellulite-reduction program that includes 20 minutes of
strength training with five exercises for the upper body and
five for the lower body, and 20 minutes of treadmill walking
or jogging, staying at about 70 percent to 80 percent of
maximal heart rate. This program is followed three days per
week, although participants can always do more cardio.
Participants in an eight-week study of Westcott's program
lost about 1 pound per week or about 10 pounds after two
months. When participants combined the exercise program with
good eating habits (a food pyramid-based diet consisting of
either 1,600, 2,220 or 2,800 calories), they doubled the fat
loss, losing 9.1 pounds of fat (compared to 4.5 pounds
without the nutritional component).
In another study led by Westcott, 72 men and women did
three 30-minute workouts for eight weeks. The group that did
only aerobic exercise, cycling for 30 minutes at a time, lost
4 pounds of fat but gained no muscle, which only slightly
improved body composition. Yet when subjects did aerobic
exercise (15 minutes of cycling) and strength training, they
dropped 10 pounds of fat and added 2 pounds of muscle, which
resulted in a greater improvement in body composition.
How to Get Started
An exercise program doesn't have to be complicated to be
effective. For strength-training exercises, any tool is fine,
including dumbbells, elastic bands, body weight and machines.
If you prefer machines, leg presses, seated leg curls, hip
adduction and abduction, and overhead presses are
recommended. And effective free-weight exercises include the
dumbbell squat, band hip adduction and abduction,
bodyweight trunk extension and trunk curl.
Still not sure where to start? A session or two with a
certified personal trainer can help get you started on the
right track. And while results won't happen overnight, a
consistent program of regular exercise combined with a
sensible diet can go a long way toward not only improving
your appearance, but your overall health as well.
Source: American Council on Exercise
Adapted by Editorial Staff, December 2007
Last update, July 2008