Fat is good for us. It provides fuel for our activities, including thinking. Some fats contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids that help our bodies fight disease and inflammation. Fat is there to help protect our organs, keep our bodies heated to a fantastic 98.6 degrees, carries around vitamins like A, D, E, and K., and insulates our nerves. So, before we move on, let’s have a little appreciation.
Ok. That’s enough of that.
Let’s face it…most of us think fat is a bad thing, and we should do what we can to get rid of it. Fair enough. As the obesity epidemic gets worse and worse, there is more and more research being done on how to get rid of excess fat. It is clear that too much fat is bad for us. It is famous for raising blood pressure, causing heart disease, some cancers, diabetes with all its complications, and even causing dementia.
Many people who are trying to do something about it, ask, “What is the best exercise for burning fat?”
The simple answer? MOVE.
I am not trying to be facetious or sarcastic. Upon breaking this down and looking at the research, the simple answer holds.
In the area of moving, there are three realms to consider.
The first one that comes to mind for many people is aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise burns calories. It is often even defined in those terms. Running burns more calories than walking. Playing singles tennis burns more calories than doubles tennis. Swimming burns more calories than housework.
Briefly, how does this work for us? Consistent walking, running, or whatever causes our bodies to adapt. Hormones that drive activity are up-regulated. Our circulation improves, our hearts become more efficient, and inside our cells, the energy factories boot up so that more fat is burned. These are adaptations that take time, but are guaranteed.
Then there’s aerobics’ cousin, strength training. Much is made of the fact that strength training builds muscle. More muscle burns more calories of all kinds (carbs and fat, not usually protein). So, if you are involved with a strength training session, not only are you burning calories because of the activity, you are creating a process of muscle repair and muscle building that will eventually help you burn even more. This extra calorie burn also comes about because you become stronger, and the activities you do become more vigorous. All. Day. Long.
Last but not least, there is what is called NEAT. This concept was developed by Dr. James Levine (who has now written a book called GET UP! Why Your Chair is Killing Your and What You Can Do About It).
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is basically spontaneous, non-structured, movement, which includes fidgeting. Estimates for how many calories this can burn can be as high as 450 per day. On top of that, studies have shown that obese people move on average two and half hours less per day than lean people. That is NEAT type movement.
What Else is there?
The “Fat Burning Zone”
You may have heard that there is such a thing as “the fat burning zone,” where your body is actively burning more fat because of the intensity of the exercise. It’s true. When you start to exercise, your body is burning mostly carbohydrates in the form of glucose that is laying around in various places in your body like your muscles and liver. It takes a while (usually around 20 minutes) for your body to switch over to burning mostly fat, since that process is more complicated and slow.
Does this mean that NEAT is a waste of fat-burning time? No! You can still burn some fat with NEAT. It is just that the percentage of fat calories you burn will be less than if you were doing some extended aerobics or even strength training.
What about genetics? Are some people more natural fat-burners than others? This is a burning question for many people who struggle with taking fat off and keeping it off. A wide-ranging research study of 38,759 people in 2007 identified the effect of an FTO gene on body weight. FTO stands for Fat Mass and Obesity Associated. This study found that 16% of the study individuals were carriers of this gene on both strands of their DNA (meaning, they were homozygous). These folks had a 1.6 – fold increased chance of being obese.
But wait! Another large, systematic review of people with the FTO gene showed that they were not more resistant to interventions to help them lose weight than those without the gene. Research continues, but it would appear that genetics does not have to be a reason for giving up.
It is worth noting that, in spite of the findings of the research mentioned here, there may be other reasons why fat won’t come off. It is true that inactivity down-regulates metabolism as does chronic dieting. People may inherit a hormone profile that effects fat-burning. And, they are even working on finding a gene that causes some people to like to exercise more than others. Stay tuned!
HIIT Interval Training
What is up with HIIT training? Why is it touted as a great fat-burner?
HITT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. The idea is that you go all-out for a short period of time, and then take a break by doing less intense exercise. Then repeat that several times during the same session. Using this approach is great for those who can tolerate high intensity exercise. The reason? There is a thing called EPOC, or Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption, that is really an afterburn that keeps on using fat and carbohydrates even though you are in the resting phase. Your body uses energy as it recovers, and if there has been a high energy demand, the afterburn is also high. It’s a good bang for your buck.
What Is the Best Exercise?
We turn to the National Weight Control Registry to find out. These are people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least two years.
The main point is this. Of those over 10,000 people, the overwhelmingly most common trait is that they reduced their portions. Not just some of the time, but every day. No cheat days, no going off the wagon on weekends.
Time and again, the message is that INPUT is critical. To put it in a nutshell, “you cannot out-exercise a bad diet.” Exercise is a big piece of the equation, but not the biggest. Exercising portion control is the winner.
© 2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.