To understand the most effective exercise for weight loss it is important to first understand the process of weight gain. Your body is designed to adapt very efficiently. It will hypertrophy (adapt positively) by increasing the number of muscle cells, nerve cells and brain cells in response to the stimulation of exercise. But what you may not be aware of is the process of ‘negative adaptation’. This is when the body responds to lack of stimulation. Atrophication (loss of cells) happens when cells are not being used – your body just does not replace them. It really is a case of use it or lose it.
Historically human survival has depended on the body adjusting this way. Each cell has an energy demand for which calories need to be consumed so the body will not replace cells that are not being used. This atrophication is not a slow process. It is deliberate and efficient.
Translate this to our modern sedentary lifestyle. Lack of movement triggers negative adaptation and you atrophy – quickly. Muscles waste, the nervous system wastes, and your brain wastes too – and notably white matter (the stuff you think with).
The loss of nerve cells results in the slowing of your movements and loss of spontaneous or explosive movement capacity. This is why you are more likely to slip or fall. One of the primary functions of the brain is controlling and coordinating movement. If there is no movement then that brain function is not required and so those brain cells will die too. The loss of brain cells due to lack of movement will manifest as gradual loss of cognitive capacity and over a lifetime will lead to dementia.
Your muscles are the principle drivers of your metabolism. Your metabolism determines the efficiency with which your body produces energy from food and therefore your overall levels of energy and vitality. As your muscles waste your metabolism drops and so does your ability to burn calories. If you keep eating high energy foods – which is what the Western Diet is all about – you are destined to put on weight as a result.
So if you are going to exercise to lose weight you need to do exercise that stimulates the body to adapt positively. This means resistance (load bearing) exercise to develop muscle. Not only will this increase metabolism but it will also stimulate nerve and brain cell growth too.
So what’s the best way to go about this? The best results for my clients have been achieved with muscle endurance programs. This means higher repetition, resistance exercises completed at a higher tempo. I recommend exercises that load the natural movements of the body (e.g.: pushing and pulling). Select a weight that is suitable for 15 to 25 repetitions and pick a tempo that elevates heart rate.
A cable machine or bands are excellent for this type of work. Kettlebells are a fantastic system as well – but you must know how to use them properly. If you are not sure what to do then cycling and rowing are good options. One of the most inefficient ways to go about weight loss is a treadmill because it doesn’t improve muscle function or metabolism.
Muscle endurance will help you keep the weight off during periods when you minimise your exercise routine. Most circuit programs, boxing etc. may help you get weight off but as soon as you stop the weight will come back on. This is because these programs are based on burning calories and not improving muscle function.
Keep in mind that exercise does wonders for your body and wellbeing and weight loss should really be seen as a fringe benefit. Don’t think that you have to lose weight in order to be healthy. You have to be healthy in order to lose weight. That means effective exercise and a healthy diet.
In my next post we’ll look at healthy eating based on lessons from the Mediterranean diet.