If you want to lose fat, chuck the slimming diet and try resistance training

The obese now comprise one-third of the adult population in the United States, and the trend is equally bad in Britain. Fifteen years ago, ‘only’ one American in four was over-weight, but the average citizen has deposited another eight pounds of fat under his or her skin in the last decade alone. Both men and women and all races and age groups seem to be affected by the growing corpulence. This rise in body fat, of course, presents some major health problems: obesity can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

Can anything quell this high tide of fat? Americans spend about $40 billion a year in dietary weight-reduction plans but such programmes are obviously having a very limited effect. However, new research completed at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse indicates that a simple three- day-per week resistance training programme can trim body fat significantly in women over the age of 30.

In the Wisconsin study, 68 women, aged 30 to 63, performed 12 different exercises three days a week for 12 weeks. The exercises were completed on Nautilus machines and included hip & back, leg-extension, leg-curl, upright-chest, pull- over, multi-curl, multi-triceps, hip-flexion, leg-abductor, rotary-torso, low-back, and abdominal efforts. Each individual completed one set of eight to 12 repetitions for each exercise per workout, and total workout time was deliberately held to less than one hour (studies have shown that people are less likely to abandon their exercise programmes if workout duration is under 60 minutes). Nautilus- machine resistance was increased whenever a subject could complete more than 12 reps of a particular exercise.

After 12 weeks, the weight-trainers improved muscular endurance by up to 150 per cent, trimmed body-fat levels by 7 per cent, shed three pounds of pure blubber, and increased muscle mass by almost three pounds. Abdominal fat was trimmed by 4 per cent, and fat around the thighs was reduced by over 2 per cent. Meanwhile, 27 women in a non-weight trained control group were unable to lose fat or gain muscle.

An important point to consider is that even though the women lost a great deal of fat, they did not actually lose weight during the study. That’s because each pound of demolished fat was replaced by an equal weight of muscle. Such improvements in body composition are extremely beneficial in the long run, because they make it much easier to lose fat (muscle burns more calories than fat), and they also decrease the risk of various health problems, including atherosclerosis and diabetes. Unfortunately, women undergoing such positive body changes might feel that ‘the exercise programme isn’t working’ if they were not losing weight. It’s very important for people to realise that amelioration of body composition – not just weight loss – is a very desirable goal.

The bottom line? A relatively simple resistance- training programme consisting of just 12 exercises, carried out only three times per week, burns at least six calories per minute during exercise and can improve body composition significantly in 12 weeks or less. Best of all, it can improve overall health.

(‘Effects of-a 1 2-Week Weight Training Programme on the Body Composition of Women over 30 Years of Age’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 814), pp. 265-269, 1994)

Here’s another training programme that will significantly stoke your body’s fat-burning fires
As you get older, your body’s rate of burning calories usually declines. One reason for this is that ageing usually makes you fatter – and less muscular Since fat is a much less metabolically active tissue compared to muscle, your total calorie- burning dips.

Even though calorie-burning drops off as the years go by, you tend to eat about the same quantity of food, year after year, as you get older. Since food intake doesn’t decrease as metabolic rate falls, body fat can pile up at a steadily increasing speed: Making matters worse, activity levels usually decline with ageing; increasing the imbalance between energy intake and expenditure and making your body a true storehouse for fat.

If you examined HOW you were actually burning calories over the course of a day, you would find that about 60-75 per cent of all your caloric expenditures were made just to maintain and repair your internal organs. If this rate of calorie burning, also called your resting metabolic rate, were to increase, it would be much easier for you to ward off fat.

Now, new research carried at Tufts University in Massachusetts indicates that older people can significantly raise their metabolic rates by carrying out a simple training programme which combines cycling with resistance training. At Tufts, eight men and four women aged 56-80 worked out three times per week for three months. Each workout consisted of 10 minutes of easy cycling, 10 minutes of stretching, and then three sets each of four different resistance-training exercises (chest presses, front pull-downs, knee flexions, and knee extensions), all carried out on weight machines. Resistance was set at 80 per cent of IRM (80 per cent of the resistance which could be lifted no more than one time) and there were eight to 12 repetitions per set. A cool-down period of five minutes of cycling and 10 minutes of stretching ended each workout.

After three months, the subjects’ muscular strength improved by up to 92 per cent, and their body fat decreased. In addition, total calorie burning expanded by about 15 per cent per day. Part of this was due to the calories burned during workouts, but another part came from the heightened metabolic rates of the subjects, which shot up by about 7 per cent during the 12-week programme.

It’s clear that a cycling and resistance-training programme can reverse factors which are usually associated with ageing, such as declines in metabolic rates, losses of muscle mass, and gains in body fatness. Best of all, such programmes don’t have to be time-consuming or extremely demanding physically. The exercisers at Tufts burned only about 230 calories per workout and yet achieved large improvements in body composition and metabolic rate.

(‘Increased Energy Requirements and Changes in Body Composition with Resistance Training in Older Adults’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 60, pp. 167-175,1994)

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