Physio Blog #6 - Weight Loss

I thought it would be appropriate to look at the issue of weight loss with it being the New Year. How many of us set a new year’s resolution to lose a bit of weight? Especially after Christmas! Now as always what I am going to say to you is from what I have learnt through my training and my own personal experience, not everyone will agree with it and it may not work for everyone but I hope you will get something from my advice.

Weight loss is a massive industry with many different diets and new forms of exercise to try, it can all get a bit confusing especially as everyone is adamant that their method works! I’m going to cut it down to the very basics for you; weight loss is all about energy balance. If you are expending more energy that you are taking in then you will lose weight. There are two factors to this, the energy you put in (how much you eat) and the energy you expend (how much you exercise) therefore, in very basic terms if you eat a bit less and exercise a bit more then you should lose weight. Now I’m fully aware that it is more complicated than that (especially where diets are concerned!) however, I am certainly no dietician so for the energy input part I will just say that you should still try to eat a healthy balanced diet to include all the things your body needs to fuel itself. Crash diets may look appealing but in my experience they never work in the long term, try to make lasting changes that will become your new lifestyle.

So what weight is healthy? The easiest way to calculate is using your BMI or body mass index. This compares your height and weight to give you a score, anything between 18.5 and 25 is considered a healthy weight. Now just be aware that this isn’t always fool proof, for example muscle is more dense than fat so people like professional rugby players are often classed as overweight or even obese by their BMI but I don’t think anyone could argue that they are not fit and healthy. If you have concerns about your weight or BMI then speaking to your GP is the best course of action. When working with clients I tend to try and not focus on weight and go by how that client feels about their body and how they look. Everyone’s body has a certain set point weight where their body is comfortable maintaining that specific weight; this is why many people’s diets seem to either plateau or yo-yo. These set points can be altered but as I have said above this is not through a one off diet but through a lifestyle change looking at both diet and exercise.

Many people blame weight gain on a slow metabolism. First off what is your metabolism? Many people talk about it but how many of you know exactly what it is? Metabolism is actually a range of different chemical reactions within the body, in very basic terms it is the processes of breaking down food/drink to store for energy and using energy to maintain the bodies basic functions, for example digestion and breathing. You can calculate your base metabolic rate (the energy your body uses) and there are quite a few calculators on the internet which will do this for you, I think it’s surprising how much your body uses just to maintain itself! So, what are the facts about metabolism? The truth is that you can change your metabolism, certain foods or drinks can give you a short term boost but for a longer term improvement research has shown that increasing your muscle mass is really effective. This is because muscle burns more calories per hour than fat therefore someone with more muscle literally needs more calories to function. It also goes the other way, a big myth is that overweight people have slower metabolisms however, this is also not true. People who have more body fat actually have a higher metabolic rate as your body needs to expend more energy to support the extra mass.

So, down to the exercise. What exercises are best to help lose weight? Well this really depends on how much weight you want to lose and how fit you are. So here are some general rules. Cardiovascular exercise is a great place to start (please see previous blogs) as a general rule you want to be exercising between 50-85% of your maximum heart rate so that you are using your aerobic energy system. If you exercise at the lower end of this scale the body will use fat as the primary source of energy, higher up and the body will use carbohydrates. Many of you will look at this and think, ‘great so doing lots of low intensity exercise is the way to go!’ Well in part that is true but higher intensity exercise will usually burn more calories, and remember you are aiming to expend more calories than you eat so burning more is a positive! When losing fat it is important to note that you lose fat equally from all areas of your body, completing a specific toning program will help lose fat but will not specifically lose it from a certain area. These areas, i.e. stomach will start to look more toned but this is partly due to weight loss and partly due to increase muscle mass in those areas.

So back to basics, if you want to lose weight eat a little less and exercise a bit more! Next month, exercise for the elderly population, why it’s important and how can we do it?

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