With the health & fitness industry now a source of massive revenue amidst images of fit, trim, and finely-honed bodies used to sell a variety of products, it is no wonder that statistically, at least half of all adult populations make some effort to reduce their weight at least once a year.
Those less prone to physical pursuits may choose to simply diet, reducing their calorific intake and choice of foods in a bid to trim those waistlines. However, exercise is seen as more and more of a key factor of any weight loss program, effectively speeding up the process through the burning of calories. It is of course also a well-documented fact that exercise yields a myriad of other benefits such as stronger bones, improved mood, and less of a likelihood of an assortment of chronic diseases.
Results-based research shows that the obvious best approach to adopting exercise as a lifestyle choice, particularly in terms of weight loss, is to select and maintain a well-planned, progressive programme with specific results in mind, in conjunction with a nutrition programme conducive with the desired results. The purpose of this article, however, focuses more on particular exercises or types of exercise in general that may be more accessible to the ‘average Joe’, and their specific benefits in terms of weight reduction.
Something of a ‘no-brainer’ in many respects, walking has long been considered one of the best forms of exercise for weight loss for a variety of reasons. To begin with, it is probably the most accessible and easy, especially for beginners or the less physically-oriented, to get into without feeling out-of-their-depth or even requiring the purchase of equipment. A relatively strain-free, low-impact exercise, it won’t put too much undue stress on the body in comparison to other physical pursuits.
Research has also shown that a surprisingly high amount of calories can be burned by just walking. In fact, one Harvard study reported an estimated 167 calories per 30 minutes (at a moderate pace) was possible for a person of 70-kg. A study involving obese females reported that a one-hour walk, 3 times per week, significantly reduced body fat ratios and waist sizes (1.5% and 1.1 inches).
Walking is easy to incorporate into everyday activities simply by adding more steps to the day, perhaps by walking to work if possible or whilst on a lunch break, including stairs whenever the opportunity arises. A good place to start is suggested as walking for 30 minutes, at least 3 times a week, with gradual increases in duration, intensity or frequency.
Jogging and Running
For anyone wishing to up the intensity from simply walking, the next logical alternative is likely to be jogging, and then possibly even running (the main difference being in ‘pace’ – a jog is usually considered as 4–6 mph, while running is faster than 6 mph and is usually of much higher intensity). In comparison to walking, research has indicated that a 70-kg person burns just under 300 calories per 30 minutes of jogging and 372 calories per 30 minutes of running.
Due to the duration and intensity, it has also been discovered that jogging and running can help burn more ‘stubborn’ fat, sometimes called ‘belly fat’, (visceral fat) which is more harmful as it forms around internal organs and is linked to a variety of chronic diseases.
Jogging and running can be undertaken pretty much anywhere, and like walking, are not that difficult to incorporate into daily activities or routines. Again, a suggested jog of 20–30 minutes, 3 times per week, might be a realistic place to begin, perhaps on relatively soft terrains such as grass to begin with if any joint problems have ever been encountered, and it is probably wise to adopt jogging before getting into faster-paced running. As with any physical pursuit, duration and intensity need to be built up gradually, but the body usually adapts quite quickly.
Cycling is another low-impact form of exercise that elevates cardio fitness levels and aids weight loss, and although the idea of cycling may bring to mind images of the great outdoors, it is a fact that most gyms now have stationary bikes and other similar devices that function in the same way.
Using the 70-kg person as an example again for the obligatory comparison with walking and running, research indicates that around 260 calories per 30 minutes of cycling, on a stationary bike (at a moderate pace) are burned, or 300 calories per 30 minutes on a bicycle (at a moderate pace) – so just slight differences there between the stationary and transitory bicycles.
Cycling brings about many of the reported benefits of running, along with an improved mood due to a sense of ‘getting out and about’ for those apt to taking to the road. It is also ideal for all levels of fitness due to its low-to-zero-impact so it will place even less stress on the joints than jogging. Of course this is the one out of all the exercise covered that does indeed require some equipment, which can in some cases be quite expensive depending on how seriously it is taken up by the participant, but there is always the option of the gym for those not wishing to shell out and take to the road.
Expectations regarding weight loss
The amount of weight lost due to exercise will be according to a variety of factors. Those embarking on a program who are initially heavier, usually tend to drop the pounds more quickly than those with less to lose, although the proportion of reduced body weight may be similar, according to research.
Other factors will be related to age, gender, diet, rest, genetics, and any other medical conditions existing. For instance it has been shown that older people usually have more fat and less muscle mass, which affects the way that calories are burned. Women are prone to a higher fat to muscle ratio than men, meaning that they may not lose weight as quickly, even if calories consumed are similar. And of course if the exercise is undertaken in conjunction with a specific diet where a calorie deficit is evident, any weight loss is likely to be more rapid. And finally, sleep patterns, certain pre-existing medical conditions and even genetics are factors in ratios and timescales of weight reduction, so losing weight is not always the black-and-white issue that it sometimes seems.
In fact it has been suggested, based on research, that although most people want rapid reductions in weight, this may have negative consequences such as loss of muscle density, fatigue, dehydration, irritability and the like. Therefore, around 1% of existing body weight per week is actually the recommended safe ratio of loss according to some experts. This is not generally considered too difficult to achieve when undertaking the kind of cardio-based exercise outlined in this article, which, if done with the required regularity and progression will go a long way to aiding any intended weight reduction.
A final point worth noting is that choosing a type of exercise that brings some enjoyment and sense of purpose is probably the one to be doing. This means that the likelihood of staying with it, and hence seeing the results, is far more probable.