Separating the fat from the fiction

By Meeghan, 7 June, 2010

Lately there seems to be an abundance of information about fat loss. I only have to open the paper at the café, listen to the radio or turn on the TV at home and I’m overwhelmed with the latest research on fighting flab. And naturally, because of my profession, I read, listen and watch with interest.

Two recent studies have caught my attention and deserve some discussion. The first comes from the Journal of the American Medical Association. It looked at how much exercise women needed to do to keep the flab off as they age. The results attracted a lot of media attention as the study found at least an hour of moderate activity a day was needed. And everyone freaked out. Including me. An hour a day? Where on earth were my busy mum’s, corporate go getters and retired jet setters going to find the time?

However when I looked more closely I realised the media reporting of this study could be misleading. Firstly, moderate activity was studied not vigorous activity and secondly this study was only looking at women who weren’t cutting back on the amount of kilojoules they were eating. As we get older most of us tend to move less but we eat the same. In order to maintain a healthy weight as we age we need to move more vigorously, more often and we must eat less.

The second study appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and looked at whether exercise-induced improvements in health are actually influenced by changes in body weight. This article acknowledges losing weight is difficult and warns against measuring success only in terms of kilograms lost because this attitude can breed unrealistic expectations and set us up for failure.

The study took a group of 58 sedentary, overweight or obese men and women who participated in a 12-week supervised aerobic exercise program, consisting of five weekly sessions. They were asked to stick with their regular eating habits.

When the data was collected the participants fell into two groups: responders who lost a mean reduction of predicted body weight of 3.3kg and non-responders who failed to achieve the predicted weight loss. Almost half of the participants failed to achieve weight loss but both groups achieved significant increases in aerobic capacity, including an improvement in resting heart rate, decreased blood pressure and decreased waist circumference. And perhaps most importantly, all participants experienced an exercise induced boost in their positive mood. In other words, they all felt better.

Lost in the translation of many articles I read about fat loss is the sheer joy to be felt from moving the body. Over thousands and thousands of years the human species has had to hunt and gather, fight or - run like hell. Our bodies are designed to move. It’s only in the age of technology, that our choice of lifestyle (full of appliances, gadgets, cars and remote controls - which promised to make our lives easier) has had the unexpected result of making our lives more difficult by way of alarming rates of obesity and chronic disease.

It is not easy to maintain a healthy weight or to commit to a physical training program of self improvement as you will need to exercise and eat well most days of the week. But little by little you will get stronger and fitter, feel better for it and maybe lose some body fat along the way. There is no one final destination, a point at which you can stop or jump off. It’s a long term commitment you make to yourself to live in a better functioning body, with a healthy mind and an increased sense of well being.

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