Fifteen-year-old Megan plays short-stop on her softball team three times a week and jogs four miles every Saturday and Sunday with her father. With all that activity, she must be burning all the fat she can, right? Not necessarily, say weight-loss experts.
The latest research on fat-burning shows that the best way to reduce your body fat is to add muscle-strengthening exercises to your workouts, while being careful not to consume too much dietary fat. Megan is definitely getting her share of aerobic exercise, but if she wants her body to get rid of excess fat sooner rather than later, she needs to add some muscle-building activity.
What Is Fat and How Did It Land on My Thighs?
First the good news about fat: You can’t live without it. Fat is your most concentrated source of food energy (or calories). And fat not only provides energy, it helps your body absorb certain vitamins.
Now the bad news: Since your body stores fat for future energy reserves, you can end up overweight if you eat too much and don’t get enough exercise.
Why do our bodies store excess fat in the first place? Remember, human beings were designed for the harsh life of the prehistoric era when our ancestors had to rely on their stored fat for energy when food was scarce. Even though today most of us eat enough food to replace the calories we burn through daily activity, our bodies are still stocking up on fat. It happens through an enzyme in your fat tissue called lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which extracts fats from the blood and converts them into a form that can be stored in fat cells. Some researchers also suspect that the LPL sends signals to your central nervous system to increase your appetite so that you can maintain those fat cells.
Once you hit puberty, your fat cells increase, making it more likely that excess fat will show up on your hips and thighs if you are a female, and around your middle if you are a male.
The Role of Exercise
You can’t get rid of LPL, but you can reduce its effects by exercising regularly, paying special attention to strengthening your muscles. Muscle tissue is your very best calorie-burning tissue, and the more you have, the more calories you burn, even when you are resting.
You don’t have to become a serious body builder. Using handheld weights (also called free weights) two or three times a week is enough. Just be sure you learn how to use them properly because you can tear or strain muscles if you don’t practice the proper weight-lifting techniques.
Aerobic exercise–any activity that keeps your heart beating at your training rate for 30 minutes–is also vital for burning fat. To determine your training rate, subtract your age from 220; calculate 50 percent and 75 percent of that number to determine the “target heart rate” range for a good aerobic workout. So, if you are 16 years old, your heart should beat between 102 and 153 times per minute at the peak of your workout. (To check it, take your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply the number of beats by 6.)
A balanced workout regimen of muscle-building and aerobic exercise does more for you than just burn fat. It gives you more endurance by promoting better distribution of oxygen to your tissues and increasing the blood flow to your heart. And perhaps the most obvious plus of all: It gives your body a fit, lean look.
Don’t Eat That Cream Puff
Even if you exercise several hours a day, you’ll continue to carry around extra pounds if you consume too many ice-cream sandwiches, hamburgers, and other fatty foods. According to Leslie Eckerling, M.S., R.D., director of the Nutrition for Weight Management Program at the University of California Irvine Medical Center, teenagers are eating more junk foods than ever before. And, not surprisingly, more your people are suffering from Obeysity “There are too many high-fat snacks available, even at school. And parents often bring home high-fat fast foods for dinner,” she says. Eckerling advises young people to eat more carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, bread, and fruits, but even more important, to exercise. “Don’t sit in front of the TV. Get out and move! If you form poor eating habits as a teenager, you’re likely to carry them–and your excess weight–with you for the rest of your life,” she says.
Burning Fat: What It Takes
The fat-burning power of various forms of exercise is listed below by the number of calories they burn. When you consider that there are about 3,500 calories in every pound of body fat, you can see that it takes a lot of work to burn off one pound. That’s why it’s so important to reduce the amount of fat in your diet while you increase your activity level.
To determine how much fat you are burning, divide the calories burned by 3,500 (smaller people burn slightly less, and larger people slightly more). Example: If you jog for 60 minutes a day for a week, you’ll burn about 4,200 calories, or just over 1 pound of fat–assuming you don’t replace it by consuming more fat in your diet during that same week.
Here are the calorie expenditures for various activities.
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Exercise is the best best way to get rid of unwanted body fat. Regular workouts that build and strengthen muscles are a good way to burn off these unwanted calories. Maintaining a low-fat diet also helps to ensure that additional body fat does not accumulate.
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