Exercise vital for optimizing weight, maintaining muscle
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
"Walk often. Incorporate resistance exercises. Take advantage of cardio intervals. Try yoga. Play."
Whether you want to lose weight or prevent muscle loss, this is the simple answer to the supposedly hard questions we often ask ourselves about exercise.
Easier said then done, right? Yes. Exercising requires dedication and grit. Luckily there are a number of ways that can make exercising easier and provide quicker more long-lasting results.
Dr. Natasha Turner ND, a Canadian leader in weight loss concepts, provides an excellent overview of exercise in her book The Hormone Diet (2009). Based on these concepts and my own experience with exercise over the past 20 years, we can find solutions for your 2010 New Year exercise program.
* Address your medical predispositions to gaining weight:
If you haven't been successful at reaching or maintaining your fat-loss or muscle-gaining goals, the problem may not be the lack of discipline on your part. Underlying health conditions such as hormone imbalances or inflammation in the body, can explain why shedding pounds can remain difficult despite one's best attempt to lose weight via a superb diet and exercise program.
* Exercise is a crucial element of food metabolism:
After addressing underlying health conditions that prevent fat loss, dietary optimization becomes a priority. The amount and type of foods consumed have a profound effect on our body composition. I therefore help patients develop an individualized eating plan with the goal of not only weight loss, but also that maximizes their health.
A dietary change is only complete with the implementation of exercise. Moving our body and eating go hand-in-hand. It is the demand for nutrients and the increase in metabolism that is created with exercise that encourages muscle versus fat accumulation. Exercise provides regulated appetite control.
Now let's discuss ways to exercise that most effectively cranks up your metabolism and helps you attain an optimal body composition...
* Keep times short, but keep intensity high:
Unless you are an athlete training for a specific event, it is preferred to keep all workouts 30-40 minutes in length. High-intensity and maximal efforts sessions can be kept short and can actually provide better results than longer sessions!
For many hardcore folk, 30-40 minutes may seem too short. It is important to drop the false belief that fat loss can only occur from lengthy cardio sessions. Long exercise sessions are not only time-consuming and hard to keep up in the long-term, they can even be harmful to the body. Cortisol, a hormone secreted in larger amounts when the body is put under stress, can disrupt the body's ability to lose weight and retain muscle.
Dividing cardio and weight training into two separate sessions is ideal. This way you can work out harder without disrupting your body's hormone balance. If you must squeeze in both cardio and weights into one session, do your weight routine before your cardio. This method helps burn more fat.
Feel free to lengthen yoga sessions. Always include a 5-minute warm-up before your workouts such as spinning on the bike, jogging or walking.
Although the eventual goal is a high-intensity workout session, avoid rushing too quickly or pushing yourself too hard at the start. Remember, this is a long-term plan. Spend your time initially by building up your foundation to prepare your body for the metabolic boost of exercise. For the first few months, optimizing your health status as discussed above may consume much of your time and effort.
Regardless of your fitness level, start your exercise program this week. The key is to start somewhere, to keep it going and to build it up.
It is important to individualize each exercise regime. For those just starting to exercise, or those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, it is important to adjust an exercise regime accordingly. Those with arthritis or joint pain may require low impact forms of cardiovascular exercises (cardio) such as swimming or biking.
* Open up your schedule for exercise:
To ensure that you make time for exercise, schedule your workouts in your calendar. Setting your intentions and writing your action plan on paper provides motivation and helps keep you on track.
Determine the most appropriate time for you. Most convenient times are usually times that fit with the rest of your daily activities such as before or after work. Discuss the importance of exercise with your other family members to schedule a time that still maintains a good family-life balance.
Use one of the following weekly exercise routines geared for weight loss, maintaining muscle and optimal body composition:
“I have no time, but need to start somewhere” Program
- Monday: Rest
- Tuesday: 20min Weights + 20min Cardio Interval Training
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: 20min Weights + 20min Cardio Interval Training
- Friday: Yoga
- Saturday: 20min Weights + 20min Cardio Interval Training
- Sunday: Rest + Play
“I’m going all the way” Program
- Monday: Rest + Yoga
- Tuesday: 30-40min Weights
- Wednesday: 30-40min Cardio Interval Training
- Thursday: 30-40min Weights
- Friday: 30-40min Cardio Interval Training
- Saturday: 30-40min Weights or Ashtanga yoga
- Sunday: Rest + Play
* Fueling your body:
Follow these basic rules. Short cardio workouts can be done on an empty stomach while resistance training (weights) sessions should include a snack high in protein and carbohydrates about one hour before. For both types of workouts (cardio and weights), refuel within 45 minutes with a snack high in protein and carbohydrates (but low in fat). Examples include a whole oats cereal with walnuts, slice of whole grain bread with pumpkin seed butter, or a smoothie made with organic yogurt and blueberries.
Since workout sessions are kept short, there is no need for sport drinks that contain more sugar than the body needs. Too much sugar causes hormone imbalances that can interferes with fat loss and muscle building. Drink only purified water during workouts.
* Walk often:
By incorporating walking into our everyday routine, the human body is kept prepared for more intense exercise. Think of walking as an appetizer for the main course. Walking incorporates rhythmic low-impact movements that provide continual blood flow to the joints and muscles, thereby keeping them healthy.
For those just starting to exercise, walking is the preferred form of cardio exercise. For others, walk whenever you can such as taking strolls during a lunch break or going for a hike in a park with your family or friends on a Sunday afternoon.
* Incorporate weights and resistance training exercises:
Unless you chop wood, lift bales of hay, work with heavy piping or fry with iron skillets for a living (or any such strenuous labour), you need to lift weights or do resistance exercises. Research shows that muscle loss occurs as we age and/or stop doing activities that utilize, build and maintain our muscles.
Since muscle is metabolically active not only during use, but also at rest, the more muscle you have the more calories you'll burn. The rewards of building muscle mass are apparent -- we can burn fat while we sleep or even while watching TV!
Weight lifting (including heavy weights) isn't just for men. It is important for women who want to lose weight to drop the myth that lifting weights will bulk them up too much.
It is extremely difficult for women to bulk up because they only possess 5-10 per cent of the testosterone that men do. The goal therefore isn't to build huge arms and thighs, but rather it's to build lean muscles that will accelerate your fat-loss progress.
I am a big fan of using free weights and a stability ball. It's a low cost option that can be used both at home or in a gym routine. Although more advanced and tricky to learn initially, this form of weight training increases the intensity of the workout by incorporating supporting muscles.
Ideally train all muscle groups by dividing workouts into three sessions:
1) chest, back and core
2) legs and core
and 3) arms and core
For each of these workout sessions, include four different circuit groupings that each include three exercises.
For each resistance training exercise, keep the intensity level high by doing 15 repetitions repeated 2-3 times. This system maximizes greater muscle gain.
As long as your form is good, don't be afraid to use heavy weights. Choose a weight light enough that allows you to complete each circuit, but heavy enough that you can barely complete the last few repetitions. Rest for one minute after the end of each circuit grouping while setting up for next circuit.
This may sound complicated, but once you try it a few times, it becomes easier and makes complete sense. Discuss a personalized workout regime with your naturopathic doctor or personal trainer.
* Do cardio and take advantage of intervals:
Cardio can be tough, so choosing an activity that you enjoy and will continue to do is imperative. Some people love running outdoors (even in the winter), while others prefer to do their workouts on indoor tracks, or on the treadmill, elliptical trainer or stationary bikes. Pick one or a few and maintain consistency.
In order to keep cardio sessions short while maximizing fat-burning potential, include interval training. Already a mainstay to improve athletic performance, the use of intervals for maintaining a healthy weight cannot be underestimated. A 20-minute cardio workout that includes intervals, for example, will burn more fat than a 40-minute session at a steady pace.
Intervals are a series of shorter periods of intense exercise separated by periods of brief rest or lighter activity. For a 30-minute running workout, for example, warm-up for five minutes by running at a slow pace, then run for 10 minutes at a steady moderate pace, then do intervals for the next 10 minutes by alternating one minute fast and one minute slow, and finish off with another five minutes of a slower pace cool down. Use a heart rate monitor or monitor changes in your breathing rate to adjust your pace during your cardio workouts.
If you are new to interval cardio training or have a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor first. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, unexplained fatigue, joint problems, are pregnant (and wanting to start a new exercise program) or if you are over the age of 60.
* Try yoga:
Yoga practices incorporate a unique series of movements. It is an important adjunct to any exercise program, since it:
- limbers the body by preventing shortening and stiffening of muscles and tendons
- helps prevent sport and exercise related injuries
- offers great poses for resistance exercises
- encourages increased oxygen utilization via breathing
- promotes stress reduction and relaxation.
For all these reasons, yoga is as important for men as it is for women.
Avoid yoga on the same day as your weights unless you replace your weights with Ashtanga yoga (a form of yoga that includes sufficient resistance training exercises).
Fun keeps us feeling alive and happy. Incorporate as many fun activities that move your body into your every day activities as you can. These include dancing and having sex throughout the year, hiking and gardening in the summer, and skiing and tobogganing in the winter. Choose whatever activity you love best and do it often.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday January 6th, 2010 in Times & Transcript.
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