Exercise to Increase Health, Not Necessarily Lose Weight
> 9/13/2006 9:35:13 AM

We like to talk about a lot of issues regarding weight loss and its relation to overall health. While fingers may get pointed at a number of culprits and explanations, the bottomline remains that exercise has a key role to play in determining our overall health and physical fitness. Today's New York Times contains a great overview of the relation that exercise has to weight loss and health.

For those of us completely out of shape, the decision to begin exercising may be easy, but sticking to a regimen can be very difficult. Starting out with a manageable exercise goal is important for two reasons: psychologically it will limit discouragement and physically it will cut down on injuries. Jumping into something too fast, exercising too vigorously or for too long a duration, can lead to wear and tear on your body if it hasn't been sufficiently prepared. Working into a comfortable routine will help ensure that you stick with your plan.

As the NYT points out not all exercises are created equal, and many other factors come into play to determine the value of a workout in terms of caloric benefit. Ralph LaForge of Duke University compiled some of these factors for the American Council on Exercise. They include:
  • People who are overweight or obese burn more calories proportionately doing the same activity, for the same duration and at the same intensity, than those of normal weight.

  • Weight-bearing activities that work against gravity use proportionately more calories at a given level of effort than swimming, cycling or water aerobics.

  • If your workout includes hills, you will use more calories per minute than doing the same activity on level ground. But if you engage in resistance exercises working out with weights or on machines that strengthen various muscle groups you may gain several pounds of muscle that partly offset the loss of body fat.

  • With greater muscle mass, your basic metabolic rate will rise and you will burn more calories all day and night. And since muscle holds less water and takes up less room than the equivalent weight of fat, by shedding fat and gaining muscle you can lose inches and sizes without losing actual pounds on the scale.
The point here is that working out must be viewed as the long term solution that it is. Pounds are not just going to start flying off as soon as you hit the gym, but you should begin to notice some positive benefits right away. These can include better sleep, increased energy, decreased feelings of stress and improved digestion. Weight loss, or more appropriately, fat loss, will come over time. There is a very good chance that the scale will actually register an increase in overall weight as you initially add the muscle that will help you progress forward in your workout.

As LaForge makes clear, there are a lot of things to consider when embarking on beginning an exercise routine. The number one element though should be regularity. It's been said many times, but the best exercise regimen is the one that you will stick with, so designing a workout that suits your goals and fitness level is a great start to increasing your overall health and moving toward a slimmer figure.

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