I was having a conversation with a man about my age (57) the other day regarding exercise. He complained that he was having trouble getting “rid of my belly” despite putting in long sessions on the elliptical and treadmill machines, and doing weight training. “I’ve been working at this belly for several years, and seem to be at a plateau,” he exclaimed. He had pretty good muscle tone, and seemed fit, but he had quite a bit of belly fat, common in middle-aged men. I asked how intense his aerobic work was; he replied “I do 30 minutes at roughly 70-75% of my heart rate maximum, then do 15-20 minutes on different weight machines. And, I do at least 50 crunches fives times per week.” Though I didn’t get into his diet too much, I did say that belly fat’s main contributor is dietary sugar, whether it comes from direct sources (sweets), or from simple carbohydrates (starches, alcohol, fruit juices, breads, white flour). As I blogged about recently, fructose ends up in deep visceral (belly) fat, muscle and liver fat. This was news to him. Back to his workout. I realize that the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, and other leading groups recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five times per week, and two to three days of resistance training, for optimum health. This has been the status quo for several years. But one thing I’ve noticed in a lot of these well-meaning exercisers who follow this protocol; The 20 pounds they were trying to lose 10 years ago they are still trying to lose today-and most of it is belly fat. I used to follow the same advice, and though I was fit, couldn’t get rid of the belly fat. However, I’ve changed my workouts, and my belly has disappeared! A couple of years ago I happened across a few studies touting high-intensity, short interval training sessions. The research showed that you get the same or even better benefits to heart, lung, bone density, and weight loss, as the earlier protocols, and that this type of exercise could be done in as little as 15 minutes per day! I gave it a try and this regimen quickly fell into favor. I started in earnest last April, exercising only 15 to 20 minutes each time, going as hard as I could, with short recovery in between exercises. Many of the exercises were done using only body weight, the rest using resistance bands. None of the exercises involved sitting on a machine or lying on the floor. I exercise the whole body with each exercise, the way we do many of our daily activities. My weight when I started last April was 185 lbs. After four weeks, I was down to 180, after 12 weeks, down to 175. Other than reducing my beer intake, no dietary modifications were made-I eat what I consider a pretty healthy diet. I don’t have a sweet tooth. I plateaued at 175 for several months, up a pound or two, down a pound or two. Within the last couple of months, however, I started losing weight again, FROM MY BELLY! I now weigh 165 lbs, below what I weighed in high school. And, I’ve stayed there for a few weeks. The belly is finally gone, and I attribute it to the revved-up, short workouts that I adhere to four to five days per week. Physiologically, these type of workouts make sense as to why they burn fat. Our bodies are very smart-they do whatever we train them to do. For instance, if you train your body to walk for 30 minutes at a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation, you indeed will burn some fat. BUT, since your body knows it needs to provide fat for your workout, it will store fat (I told you it was smart). However, when you train in short-burst, high-intensity workouts, you are working too hard to primarily use fat, burning sugar (muscle glycogen) instead. This is known as anaerobic exercise. So the body thinks, “I don’t need fat, so I don’t have to store it! “I only use sugar.” This was the problem with the man I was having a conversation with. He has since begun to use my advice. “Shorten up your workout, increase the intensity, and do the exercises without sitting or lying down.” I’ll keep you posted on his progress. If you have questions, email me and I’ll help.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.