Burning excess fat is always a challenge for both men and women.
It would be nice if parts of us were created like candles. At the slightest appearance of the unsightly bulge, all we need is to flick a match and watch the fat melt.
When we are satisfied with the amount melted, we can blow out the candle.
That would be ideal. Unfortunately, nothing comes easy in life.
In my last column, I pointed out that you need more oxygen to burn fat because it’s denser than carbohydrate.
Fat contains nine calories per gramme whereas carbohydrate has only four. So, you get more energy and can go further on a gramme of fat than on a gramme of carbohydrate.
Because of this, our bodies have evolved to hold fat in reserve for times of starvation.
Hence, only after roughly 30 minutes of exercise does your body start tapping into the fat reserves and use it as fuel.
In short, for moderate-level activities, you have to work out longer to get into the fat-burning zone.
That means strolling in the mall for hours just doesn’t do it. Neither does walking on a treadmill while watching a movie.
I’m always amazed when I see people running or walking briskly on the treadmill while concentrating on the screen in front of them. It takes only one misstep to fall off and get injured.
We all burn fat at slightly different rates. Some people are genetically blessed with faster metabolic rates than others, which explains why some people naturally carry less body fat.
Metabolism, or metabolic rate, is defined as the series of chemical reactions in a living organism that create and break down the energy necessary for life.
More simply, it’s the rate at which your body expends energy or burns calories.
It’s part truth and part myth that metabolism is the key to weight loss.
The increasing number of obese and overweight people in Malaysia cannot be blamed entirely on an inherited tendency to a slow metabolism.
According to Harvard Health, genes do not change that quickly. Environmental factors, eating unhealthy or processed foods, a sedentary lifestyle and exercising too little, are more likely the culprits.
Our bodies are like a storage facility, designed to store excess energy in fat cells, regardless of whether your metabolism is fast or slow.
Obviously, if your intake and output is the same, the scales won’t budge.
But if you eat and drink more calories than your body expends, you will gain weight.
On the other hand, if you eat and drink fewer calories than are burn-ed through everyday activities (including working out, resting and sleeping), you’ll lose weight.
A high metabolism means that you’ll need to take in more calories to maintain your weight.
That’s one reason why some people can tuck in bowls of noodles and rice, and yet not gain any weight.
People who fidget also tend to burn more calories. While this doesn’t mean you should start developing annoying habits, being active can help with your fat loss.
Because 3,500 calories equals about one pound (0.45 kilogrammes) of fat, it’s estimated that you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat.
By burning roughly 120 calories a day for a month, you should be able to shave off a pound of fat. Mathematically, it’s that simple if you don’t increase your caloric intake.
Working at rest
Our bodies are also programmed to sense a lack of food as starvation. In response, our basal metabolic rate (BMR) slows down.
The BMR is an estimate of how many calories your body burns while you’re at rest.
It represents the minimum amount of energy needed to keep the body’s basic (basal) functions working, such as breathing, keeping your heart beating, nutrient processing, cell production, etc.
A low BMR means fewer calories are being burned over time. That’s one reason why losing weight is often difficult.
Fat tissue has a lower metabolic activity than muscle tissue, so if your body has more muscles, your BMR will be higher.
In a nutshell, to get the body more efficient in burning fat, you need to do some aerobic activity and embark on a strength-training programme to build more muscles.
Doing one without the either doesn’t yield as good a result.
You’d be surprised, but many do not know what strength training is. When I introduce this concept to my new students, they usually stare at me blankly.
They are familiar with aerobics and know what sit-ups and push-ups are, but that’s the extent of their fitness knowledge.
Strength training is a type of exercise that requires you to contract your muscles against resistance.
It builds muscle mass and increases strength, leading to stronger bones and joints.
Lifting weights is one example of strength or resistance training, and is especially important when it comes to burning fat.
In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Cardiology, strength training reduced visceral fat in 78 people with metabolic syndrome.
Visceral fat is a type of dangerous, hidden body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity and surrounds a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines.
Resistance training may also help preserve fat-free mass, which can increase the BMR.
According to one review, 10 weeks of resistance training could help increase calories burned at rest by 7% and may reduce fat weight by 1.8kg.
Instead of being too ambitious, start your strength-training regimen by using body weight, i.e. perform simple exercises such as crunches, push-ups, squats, tricep dips, etc.
Then move on to resistance bands before attempting light dumbbells or weight machines.
Lack of sleep
Besides diet and exercise, there are numerous other factors that influence weight and fat loss. One of them is getting enough sleep.
A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology traced the sleep pattern of 68,183 women.
Results showed that those who slept five or fewer hours per night over a period of 16 years were more likely to gain weight than those who slept for longer than seven hours per night.
But nine out of 10 Malaysians suffer from one or more sleeping problems, according to the 2018 National Sleep Survey conducted by Nielsen Malaysia.
Yes, we are a sleep-deprived lot. That may explain why our girths are also expanding.
A lack of sleep may contribute to alterations in hunger hormones, increased appetite and a higher risk of obesity.
Although everyone needs a different amount of sleep, most studies have found that getting at least seven hours of sleep per night is associated with the most benefits when it comes to body weight and fat levels.
Physical activity improves sleep quality and increases sleep duration.
Exercise may also bolster sleep in other ways, because it reduces stress and tires you out.
Early morning and afternoon workouts may also help reset the sleep-wake cycle by the raising body temperature slightly, then allowing it to drop and
trigger sleepiness a few hours later.
It’s also all the better if you are able to exercise outdoors and let your body absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours.