The “Weight Loss” Dilemma:
A huge majority of people grappling with weight problems, or wanting to stay fit and healthy, fail to distinguish between losing weight and losing fat. For most the belief is that taking care of one should indirectly take care of the other. Partly true, but not necessarily a fact, making it imperative to understand what you are getting into when you dive into your gym-wear, wanting to either shed those love handles or to get that chiseled well toned look.
A majority of gym goers stick to their cardio routines to shed weight while keeping away from the somewhat challenging weight (or strength) training routines. They believe that strength training might tone them but not impress their bathroom scales.
So what’s important? Losing fat or losing weight???
Weight is the aggregate of everything that’s in your body …your fat, muscles, bones, organs, blood, water, tissues, etc. whereas fat comprises of subcutaneous (below the skin surface that makes us “look” thin or fat) fat and visceral (around our organs that the body stores as “reserve” backup fuel in emergencies) fat.
The problem with diets and cardio routines, that target weight loss, is that you are not sure “what” you are losing to bring the scales down. In essence you are losing critical muscle mass (some diets even lead to bone mass/density erosion) along with the desired effect of emptying your “excess” fat stores (mostly the subcutaneous fat). The biggest reason is that the body obtains the energy stored in muscle much quicker and more efficiently than it can by burning body fat.
So people doing cardio “look” leaner and shed weight quicker than someone doing weights. Most cardio routines will not trigger enough intensity to force the body burn the visceral fat reserves. From a long term health perspective this “stored” visceral fat is dangerous, causing most of the ailments that we suffer from today.
So if you “look” lean shake off that false belief that you are low on fat. In fact slimmer people, having a poor muscle mass, can store more visceral fat that someone who “looks” fat. Any fitness initiative (even those targeted just at weight loss) should eventually develop your health in a way that’s sustainable and everlasting.
Importance of Muscle mass:
Fat is an inactive tissue that doesn’t burn calories while muscle is active tissue that burns calories. So the more lean muscle mass the more calories you burn without moving an inch. While cardio is good for your lungs and heart it does very little to building muscles. Strength training will reduce fat (especially visceral fat- around your internal organs) while reducing, maintaining or slightly increasing weight.
Strong muscles help define our bodies and ensure movement that efficient, and effortless. The more we move the more calories we burn. If you are concerned with changing your shape you will need to trade in fat for more muscle mass.
The problem is as we age we also lose muscle mass and strength. So building up a good lean muscle structure (without trying to give the body builders in your gym a complex), will go a long way to stay agile, and more in control (joints supported by healthy muscle tissues) of your posture, movement and balance. This agility and balance helps avoid injuries and allow you function better as you age. So do enough to ensure that you keep what you have.
Most people that I know who realized this secret, and have been able to reduce their “body fat” just do not want to lose weight. They prefer to look “fat” as long as their body fat is healthy. Once you’ve got your body fat down, check if you like what you see. Then decide if you still need to lose weight.
What’s better for ME?
Whatever the science, in the end what you should do depends entirely on your fitness level, how much time you can devote to exercise daily, and what you actually LIKE to do.
Remember, cardio is one of the best stress busters around. Stress which wrechs havoc on your hormones, your weight and your body’s fat storage logic. So ideally mix both up…Choose enough strength training routines that help you prevent muscle mass being used through your cardio routines. If you aren’t the barble types then changing intensity of your cardio routines can help. Include variety in your routines and involve some weights to check if it sparks something.
Stick to Cardio if you have recently started on fitness or running (outdoors or on the treadmill) is something you LOVE and can spend more time doing cardio than the shorter duration (less reps) intense weight training.
Stick to Weight training if you LOVE to challenge your body, burn calories quickly and are short of time. You can also involve high intensity or circuit training into the mix to boost the intensity.
So long as you are happy and healthy, any routine will help you sustain and “perceive” positive changes in your body. Stick to something you love and love sticking to it.
At the end of it all, remember that “diet is the ultimate health secret”. A poor diet will put paid to all the effort and the smart “exercise” choices you make. Eat well, exercise and stay healthy.