Too Fat for Exercise?
Whether we like it or not, and most of us don’t, we cannot survive without body fat. It is our fuel reserve and a source of energy. It keeps us warm and helps protect our bones and organs from injury. But of course some of us are better cushioned than others.
Men, dietitians say, should have 12-24 per cent of their body tissue made of fat, whilst women should expect 15-30 per cent. There’s nothing much wrong with a little comfortable weight but you certainly can be made to feel like a pygmy hippo when it comes to looking for a pair of jeans or anything else you want wear.
Sometimes, it seems if you’re not built like a pipe cleaner with the girth of a herring, you are considered out of shape, out of date and out of the question. Let's look at a few relevant facts about fat, how it gets there, what it does, and maybe how to shift some of it.
Brown Fat and Yellow Fat
Our bulk contains two distinctly different types of body fat: brown, which is very active metabolically; and yellow, which stacks itself on in all the obvious places. The difference is that brown fat is ‘closest to the bone’, actually bound to the backbone, mainly concentrated in the neck and back to produce body heat.
It is called brown because of the high concentration of tiny chemical powerhouses called mitochondria and cytochromes, which are the scientific names for the parts of our cells that generate energy. They blaze away like tiny furnaces intent on rendering down and disposing of all those extra calories we seem to take in no matter how hard we try not to.
Yellow fat has none of these kilojoule-burning properties and really doesn’t do much except make us look and feel uncomfortable, getting in the way of effective exercise and increasing our chances of obesity, heart disease and other potential problems related to excessive weight.
As we grow older, our brown fat deposits seem to become less active along with the rest of us. Less active means less thermogenically responsive — it doesn’t burn kilojoules the way it used to. Instead of being burned off, those unwanted kilojoules are stored as excess fat. So, if you are a highly active, regular, dedicated exerciser you can even overeat and still stay slimmer than a non-exerciser who seems to gain a kilo by just watching a food commercial.
Muscle or Body Fat?
One of the mysteries of metabolism, and the despair of many dieters, is the fact that some people store fat although they go on continuous diets while others remain slim no matter how much they eat.
One of the main reasons that must be considered is individual basal metabolism. This is the energy consumption needed simply to keep the body going; the rate at which energy-burning in the body is maintained, and it differs from individual to individual.
We all carry genetic weaknesses — biochemical Achilles heels — and we all have predispositions toward certain variations in metabolism, some of which can result in weight difficulties. Research has shown that obesity has a lot to do with genetic predisposition, expressed in improper functioning of the thyroid and or adrenal glands, brown fat metabolism problems and eating behavior.
Given the various health problems associated with excessive weight, not to mention the social pressures of not being ‘trim, taut and terrific’, we have to find ways of improving the management of our weight. Of course, two people of the same weight can be completely different in their ratios of fat to muscle. One can be heavily muscled and the other one can just be fat. They weigh the same but lead completely different lives and have completely different health prospects.
Activate Brown Fat and Improve Lean Body Mass
Lean body mass is the percentage of your total weight that is made up of muscle and bone as opposed to that made up of fat. This is increased by improving the efficiency of your metabolism so that fat is lost whilst muscle is retained. Your body works best at maintaining health and fitness when your food is efficiently converted to energy through enough oxygen being delivered to every cell — another reason for breathing exercises.
Appropriate aerobic exercises help promote brown fat activity and encourage appetite regulation. An aerobic exercise is one in which you work hard to move oxygen through your cardiovascular system. It might be jogging, brisk walking, swimming, skipping, cycling. But not everyone should jog. People who have very significant body mass above the ideal for their height may actually do their joints harm.
Each time your heel comes down when you’re running, you apply extreme force to your joints, depending on how heavy you are, what shoes you are wearing and the surface you are running on. Swimming is an excellent alternative to increase your aerobic fitness as it works all muscles of the body in a reasonably trauma-free environment, for the water supports your weight.
Are You Working Aerobically?
Monitor your heart rate during your exercise. Take a ten-second count and multiply it by six. You are working aerobically if your pulse rate is above twenty four beats in ten seconds. You have to keep up that rate for fifteen minutes. Initially you should start with eight minutes and work your way up. By tuning yourself up in this way you are activating your brown fat to work for you twenty-four hours a day. You are also increasing the number of mitochondria two- or three-fold. This has the effect of increasing the number of ‘furnaces’ that can burn fat for you and do the work of maintaining your correct body weight — providing you keep it up.
Exercise Alone Is Not Enough
- The average Western diet is high in fat and protein and can in fact ‘poison' the brown fat and prevent it from being as responsive as it should be. A higher complex carbohydrate, moderate protein, low-fat diet seems to encourage brown fat activity.
- Light vegetable oils are better than animal fats for activating brown fat: sunflower, soya, sesame or safflower oil — but intake should not represent more than 20-25 per cent of your daily kilojoules.
- Natural sugars (fruit sugar, fructose) appear to be better than refined sugars.
- An interesting ingredient that seems to activate brown fat and improve the heat- producing effect is caffeine. The amount required however is approximately two cups of mildly brewed coffee per day. Higher levels of caffeine have no additional therapeutic effect on brown-fat metabolism. It is important to note that caffeine is not prescribed as an aid to brown fat activity, but two cups day, especially if you enjoy it, cannot do any harm.
- Certain amino acids may be helpful in increasing activity of brown fat. The main one is tyrosine, it is important to the activity of the adrenal, pituitary a thyroid glands and is also beneficial in improving memory and overcoming anxiety or depression (doses of up to one gram daily).
- Dr David Horrobin of Montreal has found that the Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) in evening primrose has a stimulating effect on brown fat tissue. The GLA forms substances that can accelerate the activity of the mitochondria in brown fat and so quickly burn up excess kilojoules.
Muscles and kilojoules. The more muscular your body, the more kilojoules you burn while resting. The issue isn’t kilojoule expenditure during a workout but your overall metabolic rate. People with well-developed muscles have a higher metabolism even when they’re sleeping. That is why men, who naturally have more muscle mass and less body fat than women, can eat more without gaining weight and can shed kilograms more rapidly when they cut their intake. A large percent of our body weight is water: 55-65 per cent in females, 65-75 per cent in males. Women’s bodies contain a larger proportion of fat, which holds less water than lean tissue.
If I stop exercising will my muscles turn to fat? Neither muscle nor fat can turn into the other. Fat stores fuel whilst muscle uses it. The unique property of a fat cell is its ability to store and hold fat until it is needed as fuel for energy. Research shows that sprinting uses 80 per cent glycogen and 20 per cent fat whereas endurance activities, like fast walking, burn up 80 per cent fat and 20 per cent glycogen. So if you wish to burn kilojoules it is advisable to take up longer endurance activities regularly, rather than shorter vigorous bouts occasionally.
- Restrict your salt intake as it causes your body to retain fluids.
- Don’t weigh yourself more than once a week when you start your exercise program — why not?
Because, when you’re exercising, you’re replacing those lighter-than-water fat cells with heavier-than-water muscle cells. Weight is only one of the indications of fitness and health. What really matters is how you feel, how much better you look and perform.
Don’t get hung up on the scales, because you may even gain a kilogram or two, but you will be centimetres smaller and firmer, and that’s what counts.
So it is important to remember that your aim is to decrease fat while maintaining muscle and therefore the real result is not necessarily the number of kilograms but your increased level of fitness.
Live Longer through Intermittent Fasting
Research in recent years suggests there might be a simple way to stay alive and kicking for decades longer than your sell-by date - through fasting.
Fasting is a millennia old practice, used as an act of spiritual devotion or penitence. But now health gurus are jumping on the fasting bandwagon as a way of boosting the immune system, cleansing the body of toxins and improving general well-being.
And this isn’t just wishful thinking. The science behind fasting has shown that limiting calorie intake can put the body into a state called ketosis, which promotes a process called autophagy, meaning the body metabolises (i.e. self-consumes) dead cells and other toxins lingering in the blood and soft tissues.
The most prolifically followed form of this calorie restricted regime is known as Intermittent Fasting. This involves abstaining from eating and drinking anything other than water for a strictly adhered to window each day, which is generally around 16 to 18 hours long. For example, if you eat your last meal of the day at 8pm, the next time you're allowed to eat is the following day at 2pm.
So, is the wane worth the gain? There’s only one way to find out ...