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Myth: If I exercise longer at a lower intensity level, I’ll burn more fat.
Reality: While it’s true that when you work out at a lower intensity, a greater percentage of the calories you burn will be fat (versus carbohydrates), you will actually burn more total calories if you exercise at a higher intensity over the same time period.
And burning more calories overall will keep your metabolism higher throughout the day, so you will burn more fat over time.
Jami Norris, Duke Center for Living/DFC Fitness Director, debunks the popular myth: “Many people think that to get rid of the fat on your legs, for instance, you must burn stored fat rather than carbohydrates. That’s why they think they have to work out for a long period of time at a lower intensity, which burns a higher percentage of fat calories.
But the reality is that raw calorie burn – whether it’s calories from fat or carbohydrates – is what it takes to shed pounds. And incorporating higher intensity into your workout through interval training is the most efficient way to burn those calories.”
This Time, the Hare Wins
The Tortoise: A 170-pound person walking for 30 minutes at 3.5 miles per hour will burn 155 calories at a ratio of 60% carbohydrates, 40% fat. That’s 62 calories from fat burned.
The Hare: If that same person jogs slowly for 30 minutes at 6 miles per hour, he would burn 375 calories during that same time at a ratio of 75% carbohydrates, 25% fat. That’s about 93 calories from fat burned, and it’s also 220 more absolute calories burned, which is more effective overall.
The Big Winner: The Hare. By exercising more intensely over the same time period, he burns more calories overall, making more progress in achieving his weight loss goals.
Extra Credit: Keep Your Metabolism Burning Brightly
The weights you lifted yesterday not only burned calories and increased your strength then: they’re still raising your metabolism and burning calories today. That’s because your muscles are recovering and expending energy. This works for both cardiovascular exercise and weight training: the more intensely you train, the more recovery your body must do, the higher your metabolism stays and the more calories you burn.
In fact, for each pound of muscle that you have, you burn 35-45 more calories per day, so adding muscle over time will speed up your metabolism even more. Add 3 pounds of muscle and you can burn an equivalent of a pound of fat a month. And remember, even if you’re burning more carbohydrates during intense activities, you’ll still burn more fat while your body is recovering for the next day or two.
My Body the Car (a fat-burning analogy)
Say you want to get the maximum miles per gallon in your car: you cruise at a steady 55 miles an hour. But if you really wanted to burn up a tank of gas, your best bet would be to speed up and slow down repeatedly.
That’s bad strategy for gas mileage, but good strategy for calorie burning. When you do the same exercises day in and day out at the exact same intensity (like driving at 55 mph), your body adapts and you actually start to burn fewer calories because your body gets more efficient.
If, instead, you vary your activities and your intensity, it will keep your body “on its toes” and burn more fuel in the form of calories. And the more calories you burn, the more fat you burn!
Don’t Just Sit There – DO SOMETHING!
Taking a Preventive Approach to Your Health
What are you waiting for? Many people wait to start a healthier lifestyle until…
…someone they love is diagnosed with or dies of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or another devastating disease.
…they themselves are diagnosed with a disabling or life-threatening disease.
Think about what will motivate you to make a healthy change. Don’t wait until a personal tragedy strikes – take action now!
You’ve heard it a thousand times before: clean living, healthy eating and regular exercise are the keys to a longer, healthier life. It’s not rocket science, after all – it’s just plain logical.
There’s plenty of evidence that these healthier habits can prevent – or at least delay – many diseases and deaths. And yet, most Americans just aren’t doing what it takes to be healthy. As a result, cardiovascular disease remains the nation’s number one killer, taking the lives of nearly 1 million Americans annually and afflicting at least 50 million more.
Cancer adds another 500,000 deaths each year and forever alters the lives of approximately 7.4 million living Americans who have a history of the disease. Another 16 million people have diabetes – often undetected – causing thousands of deaths each year and increasing risk for heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and amputation.
All told, these three highly preventable diseases alone cost our nation an estimated $455 billion a year in health care, lost productivity and mortality costs. (Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Add osteoporosis, arthritis and other preventable diseases and the numbers are even more staggering.
The Power of Prevention
“Prevention is a simple concept”, says Kevin Waters, MD, of the Duke Executive Health Program at the Center for Living. “If you have bad lifestyle habits, you’re more likely to get ill. If you change to better habits, you’re less likely to get ill.”
“The fact is, we’re all going to get some disease in our later years, even if we do everything right”, he acknowledges. “But we want to prevent illness while people are in their 50s, 60s and early 70s rather than having them be disabled and spending their time in doctors’ offices.”
Dr. Waters notes that a healthy lifestyle is not just an investment in your future – it also has important benefits now. “If you’re overweight, out of shape and tired all the time, begin exercising moderately and eating better and you’ll feel better now.
In a very short period of time, you can start losing weight, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and sometimes reduce medications for these conditions, perform better at work, sleep better and have more energy.”
You can significantly decrease your risk for many diseases by taking simple preventive steps:
1. Exercise moderately several times a week. Shoot for four to five times a week for at least 30 minutes a day – more is better, but some activity is better than none. If you’ve been inactive, start with walking, doing yard work, or taking the stairs – just do what you can to be more active.
2. Eat sensibly. Instead of dieting, start incorporating healthier eating habits that you can sustain for the rest of your life. Reduce saturated fats and increase carbohydrates while controlling portion sizes and eat less red meat and more fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
3. Reduce stress in your life. Everyone has stress, although it manifests itself in different ways. Stress raises your blood pressure and increases your risk for many illnesses.
4. Learn to manage and reduce stress through exercise and other relaxation techniques, and ask your doctor for guidance.
5. Change other unhealthy habits. Quitting smoking alone will significantly reduce your risk for lung cancer, heart disease and many other conditions. And if you’re drinking a lot, cut back: alcohol provides empty calories, reduces your motivation to exercise and eat well and increases your risk for certain cancers.
6. Have a plan for your health. Map out what you are going to do to be healthy over the next few years. Include your goals for regular exercise, healthy eating and stress management, as well as plans to take regular vacations and to get regular health check-ups (including mammographies and breast self-exams for women and prostate cancer screenings for men). If you have any chronic diseases or major risk factors, include management plans for those conditions. Review and update your plan annually with your primary care physician.