If you’ve been overweight, this advice is your best New Year’s gift to yourself
Many countries in Asia have reported a rise in the numbers of obese and overweight adults and children during the last decade. Traditionally, lowering caloric intake was the solution for reducing obesity. However, in recent years, growing evidence suggests that lack of exercise is a primary reason for the rise in obesity and overweight. It seems increasing caloric output, is just as important, as reducing calorie consumption.
Diet without exercise is unlikely to succeed
The promise of quick weight loss in a short span of time lures many. However, the human body is too concerned about survival to allow us to lose weight quickly.
As soon as calorie intake is reduced, the body starts to slow down to conserve energy. Hence, after a few weeks of dieting, a plateau effect is experienced and weight loss slows or even stops in spite of calorie reduction.
Reducing calorie intake even further will restart the weight loss temporarily, but with time, will result in another drop in the body’s use of its energy resources, and the plateau effect is repeated. Severe calorie-restricted dieting usually results in the loss of fat free mass (FFM), for example muscle tissue. Body muscle has a higher resting metabolic rate than body fat. This is another reason for the drop in metabolic rate when dieting.
Equally important, muscle tissue lost during dieting, will not be regained without exercise. The long term effect of muscle loss from dieting therefore is a reduction in resting metabolic rate. This means a dieter may be able to eat fewer calories without gaining weight after dieting, than they were able to eat before the diet. No wonder, less than a third of people who lose weight are able to keep it off!
Exercise help to fight the flab
Exercise boosts the body’s metabolic rate and calorie expenditure, hence minimizing the plateau effect. It is not uncommon for a beginner exerciser to expend energy at the rate of five to seven times above resting levels. Exercise keeps the metabolic rate (energy or calories needed to stay alive with minimum activity) raised, and extra calories burning for some time after exercising has stopped. Thus, a jogger continues to expend more calories even after taking a shower and having gone on to other things.
Preservation of FFM tissue whilst dieting is important for maintenance of resting metabolic rate. Exercise helps preserve FFM whilst dieting. In one study, it was found that 24% to 28% of weight loss came from FFM in the non-exercising dieter, whilst only 11% to 13% of weight loss came from FFM in the dieter who engaged in aerobic and resistance exercise.
Thirty minutes or more of physical activity or three 10-minute bouts of aerobic exercise per day, can yield significant health benefits. Recent research also reports that: Inactive people can improve their health and well-being by becoming moderately active on a regular basis. Strenuous physical activity is not the only way to achieve health benefits. A good start is to walk instead of using cars and buses, use the stairs instead of lifts and escalators.
A note of caution – To avoid soreness or injury, individuals contemplating an exercise regime should start slowly and gradually build up to the desired duration and intensity of exercise, to give the body time to adjust. People with chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity,
or men over age 40 and women over age 50 should first consult a physician before beginning a new program of physical activity.
What’s stopping you?
Four common barriers to regular exercise are lack of time, embarrassment at taking part in an activity, inability to exercise vigorously and lack of enjoyment of exercise. Of these, lack of time has consistently been reported as the greatest obstacle to being active.
Getting started might be the most difficult step, but once established the benefits are potentially huge. Long-term successful weight control depends on continuing good eating and exercise habits developed whilst losing weight. It takes time to make new behaviour a lifetime habit, but with slow and gradual changes in eating pattern and exercise levels, a healthy and attractive body weight is an achievable goal.
Benefits to regular exercise
Research shows that regular physical activity also reduces the risk for several diseases and improves the overall quality of life. In one study, men aged 30 to 83 years were followed for eight years. Researchers concluded that physical activity is very beneficial to overall health, even if no weight is lost.
Heart Disease – Various studies have shown that heart disease is almost twice as likely to develop in inactive people as in those who are active. In a study involving 40,000 women, slow walking for just an hour a week, cut the risk of heart disease in women in half. Overall, many scientific studies have reported that daily physical activity can help prevent heart disease and stroke by strengthening the heart muscle, raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL- good cholesterol) levels, lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL – bad cholesterol) levels, reducing the risk for developing blood clots and diabetes, and helping control weight gain. The best exercises to strengthen the heart and lungs are aerobic ones like brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming.
Diabetes – By reducing body fat, physical activity can help prevent and control Type 2 or Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes and the complications associated with it. Besides, working muscles use glucose, thus exercise lowers blood sugar levels naturally. Regular exercise also reduces the need for medication or insulin, by improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
High Blood Pressure -Exercise is a non-drug therapy for treating mild-to-moderate high blood pressure. Exercise, especially when combined with weight loss, could reduce blood pressure at rest and in situations that typically increase blood pressure, such as intensive physical activity and emotional distress.
Cancer – The link between physical activity and cancer prevention was confirmed in 1997, by a panel of 16 renowned scientists assembled by the American Institute for Cancer Research in conjunction with the World Cancer Research Fund. There is convincing evidence that physical activity decreases the risk of colon, breast and lung cancer. Conversely, obesity linked to inactivity increases the risk of cancer of the kidney, endometrium, breast, bladder, colon and rectum.
Osteoporosis – Regular weight-bearing physical activity is critical for building bone mass early in life and for preventing bone loss in the later years. Exercise also builds flexibility, strength and coordination – all of which can help older individuals avoid falls, hip fractures and other injuries.
Back Pain – By increasing muscle strength and endurance and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise helps prevent back pain.
Mental Health – Individuals who exercise regularly are less likely to be depressed, have a higher self-esteem, and have improved body image. Regular exercise also reduces stress, anxiety, anger and fatigue; improves mood and increases feelings of well-being.
Benefits are also for children
According to researchers from Southern Cross Institute of Health Research in New South Wales, Australia, physically active children are not only healthier during their childhood, but may reap the benefits as they age. Physical activity, they explain, improves the strength of bones, lowers the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and boosts the immune system.
In the region
In response to the emerging issue of childhood obesity in the region, the International Life Sciences Institute South East Asia (ILSI SEA), initiated a study to determine the impact of changing food habits and physical activity patterns among Asian children. Following on from this, ILSI SEA embarked on a Physical Activity and Nutrition (PAN) program in collaboration with the education and health authorities in Singapore. A series of nutrition and physical activity modules were developed to support children in making responsible choices about nutrition and physical activity. In 2001, the program was extended and made available to all primary schools in Singapore and will also be used as a model for PAN initiatives in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Regular exercise also reduces stress, anxiety, anger and fatigue; improves mood and increases feelings of well-being.