So what is the best form of exercise for you? The answer is very simple it’s the form of exercise that you enjoy doing and that fits in best with your daily routine. If it doesn’t fit into your lifestyle without any major changes, you will not stick to it.
In order to work out the best exercise program for you, you need to decide exactly what you want to achieve by exercising weight loss, for example. Different types of exercise have different effects on the body, and the exercise programs in this book have been specifically designed to help you lose weight. I believe you are more likely to stick to an exercise program if you understand exactly what is going on inside your body while you are working out. So let’s take a look at the body’s energy systems.
It may surprise you to learn that we have several ways of producing the energy required to make our muscles contract and that not all of these ways burn fat. The body is able to utilize different foods such as fat, carbohydrates and protein in different ways in order to provide us with energy. These foods are the energy nutrients. Just as we have a choice between which fuels we use in our homes, the body has two main energy systems to choose from. Which one we use is determined by the following: how many muscles are working; how hard they are working; how fast they are working; and what foods are available to provide the fuel.
The Aerobic Energy System
This is by far the most efficient of the two systems. Aerobic means that the body is using oxygen to help it break down the food molecules that are being used to provide energy. The foods required for this are carbohydrates (which are broken down into glycogen, or blood sugar) and fats (which are broken down into fatty acids). Together these go through a series of chemical changes within the muscle, giving it the power to contract.
Unfortunately we cannot burn fat without glycogen. One of the reasons so many people fail with low-calorie diets is that they are not eating enough carbohydrates to provide the glycogen necessary to burn fat. They may lose body weight, although they end up weighing less, they have a higher percentage of fat on their bodies and so look very flabby. As soon as they resume a normal eating pattern, they regain all their lost weight and more.
The aerobic energy system is very similar to gas central heating it takes a long time to get going, but once it does, it is extremely cost effective and the output is very good. It gives us lots of energy for long periods of time, provided we are not working too hard. It is entirely dependent on the efficiency of the cardiovascular system (the heart and blood vessels) in pumping oxygen through the body and into the cells (inside the working muscles), which break down the fat and glycogen. Examples of the types of activity that use aerobic energy include walking, swimming, jogging and cycling.
Each individual has a different aerobic capability based on the efficiency of the heart and lungs. As soon as the level of the activity becomes too high, the body switches to the anaerobic energy system.
The Anaerobic Energy System
This second energy system comes into effect when the heart cannot pump oxygen around the body quickly enough. It breaks down glycogen but not fat, and it does so without the use of oxygen. We use this system when the need for energy is greater and more immediate. Examples of anaerobic activities include racquetball, sprinting, high or long jump and other short-term, power-based events.
If you came home to a cold house, an electric fan heater would give you more heat more quickly than gas central heating. The anaerobic energy system also gives us more power more quickly. However, the disadvantage is that we cannot keep going at a high level of intensity for very long. The reason for this is that we can store only limited amounts of glucose in the muscle (muscle glycogen), and when this runs out, we have to wait for the liver to process some more and to deliver it to the muscle. On the other hand, with the aerobic energy system the supply of glycogen lasts much longer because fat is providing most of the fuel, and glycogen stores are spared.
How Hard Should You Work?
One of the biggest areas of controversy concerns how hard you should work in order to maximize the amount of fat you burn while you are working out. The truth is that whatever form of exercise you do, you will be helping your body to burn fat, not only while you are exercising but all the time. One school of thought is that if you work too hard, you won’t burn fat. This is based on the principle that because it takes a long time for the fat to be taken out of the fat cells, into the bloodstream, into the muscle and then finally broken down, you need to exercise for quite a long time in order to stimulate this process. In other words, by the time the fat has been taken to the muscle, you will have already finished exercising. There is a lot of scientific evidence to support this, and in principle it is true.
To maximize the amount of fat you burn while you are working out, you should aim to keep going for longer to give your fat cells more time to release their fat. You should also remember that if you do this regularly, you will be training your fat cells to release fat into the bloodstream to be used as fuel. In order to do this, you will need to keep the level of exercise fairly low to moderate after all, Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis could not run as fast over 1,500 meters as he does over 100 meters. In general terms, you should feel breathless but not exhausted.
There are several ways in which you can estimate how hard you are working in order to see whether or not you are burning fat. The first is to take your pulse rate while you are at the hardest point of the exercise. The problem with this, however, is that if you are moving around (jogging or swimming, for example), it is almost impossible to take your pulse accurately. You will also need to calculate in advance what your maximum pulse rate should be. You can do this by using a simple system of subtraction. Start with 220 and deduct your age. As an example, for a 30-year-old the equation would be as follows:
- 220 – 30 = 190
So 190 beats per minute would be the maximum training heart rate. In other words, this is the maximum speed that person’s heart can beat at, so we will call this 100 percent:
- 220 – 30 = 190 = 100%
Obviously you don’t want to work at 100 percent. Research has shown that when we work at approximately 65 percent we burn the most fat. Sixty-five percent of 190 is 123. Therefore, if a 30-year-old reaches a level where the heart is beating 123 times per minute, he or she is likely to be in the “fat-burning zone”:
- 220 – 30 = 190
- 65% of 190 = 123
Isn’t that good news? Instead of going flat out on an exercise bike or a stair climber and feeling exhausted after five minutes, what you need to do is to pedal away at a level that is comfortable and sustainable. Remember: It takes longer to start burning fat than just glycogen alone, so start gently and gradually increase the time you spend on the activity, until you can work at a comfortable level for 20 or 30 minutes. Rest assured, you will be burning fat. You will also be improving your cardiovascular system and reducing your risk of heart disease.
The second school of thought is completely different, but also correct. It is based on the total amount of calories burned during exercise. Having established that you burn a higher percentage of calories from fat if the level is low to moderate, we now need to look at the total number of calories burned overall during low- versus high-intensity exercise. The following table shows the difference between the total calories burned during walking and running:
- Distance: 4 miles 6 miles
- Speed: 4 mph 6 mph
- Time: 60 minutes 60 minutes
- Total Calories: 270 680
- % Fat Calories: 60 40
- Total Fat Calories: 162 272
By looking at these figures, we can see that we do burn a higher percentage of fat calories when the activity is low to moderate, and that is good news for those of us who don’t like to work too hard. However, we must also look at the total number of fat calories burned in order to see the whole picture. Although we burn 60 percent of calories from fat when we are walking, as opposed to only 40 percent when running, the total number of fat calories burned is higher when running because the overall total is so much greater (40 percent of 680 is more than 60 percent of 270). This should not be taken too literally, however, as the figures shown are based on running for 60 minutes, which is unachievable for most of us. I certainly could not run for 60 minutes. These figures also assume that the runner can not only run for 60 minutes but also remain within his or her aerobic training zone while doing so, continuing to burn fat. This is unrealistic for most people.
For every individual, there is a particular point at which we can no longer continue to work aerobically that is, supply oxygen at the rate it is required. At this point, we then start to use the anaerobic energy system, which does not burn fat and in turn produces lactic acid in the muscle. This causes muscle soreness, which eventually stops the muscles from contracting. Whether or not you should walk or run to burn more fat, therefore, depends largely on your fitness level and on how long you are able to exercise.
When we compare walking and running over 20 minutes instead of 60, we can see that the difference between total calories burned and the percentage of fat calories burned is not so great:
- Time: 20 minutes 20 minutes
- Total Calories: 90 226
- % Fat Calories: 60 40
- Total Fat Calories: 54 90
A difference of 36 calories is negligible, especially when you consider that the calories you burn up after exercise are the most significant. Any exercise that you can sustain for 20 minutes or more will increase your metabolic rate for several hours afterward. If running is suitable for you, great; if not, no problem just walk or do whatever you can.
In addition to this, you should remember that the total amount of calories burned will vary from one individual to another, according to the total body weight and the amount of lean body mass. One pound of muscle will require approximately 40 calories per day in order to function excluding exercise. The more you exercise, the more calories the muscle will require not just when you are exercising but throughout the day and night, as it repairs itself and starts to grow stronger. The result is a higher percentage of muscle on our bodies, so we burn more calories when we work out. This in turn means we burn more calories throughout the day and night, and so the cycle goes on. All these extra calories have to come from somewhere, and provided you are not eating more than you need, they will come from the body’s fat stores the perfect way to lose weight.
It is important not to get too bogged down with worrying about which exercise burns the most fat while you are working out. It is the total number of calories you burn in just staying alive that will influence how much or how little fat you burn. Only a small percentage of the calories you burn comes from exercise, compared with the amount burned just keeping you alive.
The exercise programs set out in this book include both aerobic and anaerobic exercises in order to stimulate the fat cells into releasing more fat, to replace muscle tissue and to increase the total amount of fat calories burned throughout the dayand night. What is vital, however, is that you adapt the program to suit you. For example, when choosing your aerobic activity, it is important to find something that you like to do and are able to do for at least 20 minutes more if possible. You may find that power walking is a comfortable yet challenging workout for you if walking at a normal pace is not enough and running is too much. When power walking, you need to take much longer strides and use your arms and upper body to help you with the momentum. You should use as many of your muscles as possible and not just your legs.
Your body does not know the difference between providing energy for vacuuming and providing energy for an aerobics class. When the muscles start to work, the brain receives messages telling it to increase the supply of oxygen. This is the responsibility of the heart, which then has to pump faster to meet the increased demands. Here is a list of everyday activities that you probably do regularly, to show you that you really are burning up calories all day long:
Activity Calories per minute
- Driving a car: 2,8
- Making beds: 3,4
- Cleaning windows 3,7
- Sweeping floors: 3,9
- Ironing: 4,2
- Raking the lawn: 4,7
- Weeding the garden: 5,6
- Walking up stairs: 10,0 or more
You can, therefore, make a considerable difference in the amount of calories you burn simply by being more active in everyday life.