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Losing weight

No one doubts that being overweight affects health. Ask your insurance company. They have statistics on weight and mortality going back over more than a century. These show that if you are 20% heavier than your ideal weight for your height and sex you have more chance of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and tripling your chances of a heart attack.

In most of the industrialised world, men and women have become heavier in recent times. Yet amazingly calorie intake is less now in the 21st century than during the Second World War.

Why people are getting fatter even though they eat less has one simple explanation: Physical activity, which consumes most of the calories in food, has declined faster than calorie consumption. When you eat more calories than you burn the surplus becomes fat. With more of us sitting at computers, driving to work and watching television in the evening the conclusion is obvious, a sedentary life puts on pounds.
If a sedentary life puts on pounds then it stands to reason that exercise should take them off. Unfortunately many people still think that it takes huge amounts of exercise to have any significant effect on fat reduction and that exercise is self defeating as it makes you hungry so you eat more, putting it all back on again.

There is some truth in both contentions, but they must be seen in context. To decrease weight noticeably then a great deal of exercise is required, but you don’t have to do it all at once. For example, if you weigh 150lb and walk at a rate of 2.5 miles an hour – which is very leisurely – for one hour a day you will burn enough calories in a year to shed 22 pounds of fat.

The belief that vigorous exercisers eat more is true, but moderate exercise has been shown to suppress appetite in those who are sedentary and overweight, equalising the balance between food consumption and calorie burn. However regardless of whether a person eats more after exercise or not, the truth is that weight usually declines with regular exertion.

Studies show that active men weigh 20% less, and active women 30% less than their sedentary counterparts. Most of this loss when achieved through exercise is fat and the reason a woman loses a greater percentage than a man is that more of their bodies are made up of fat tissue – they have more to lose. However when trying to lose weight by diet alone not only is fat reduced but lean muscle tissue as well, which the body needs.

When you reduce weight through exercise men and women always end up with better-looking figures. The reason is simple. Exercise decreases weight by eliminating fat. In men, fat sits around the middle of the body, at the waist, hips and lets not forget the heart and in women on the thighs and arms. When you exercise its this fat that is burned, so the body does not shrink overall but actually changes shape, towards the slim form that is favoured by most western societies. In addition to eliminating fat, exercise contributes to a slim form in another way, by increasing muscle. Although muscle weighs more than fat- so bathroom scales are not always the best indicators to your success- it takes up much less space and muscle around the back and abdomen will strengthen a sagging middle improving posture and enhancing the overall appearance.

It’s not easy to lose weight but it’s even harder to keep it off. Experts agree that you are more likely to put the weight back on if you have achieved your weight loss by diet alone. Exercise makes you feel better and improves your self-esteem and it’s these psychological benefits, the connection between body and mind that probably offers the greatest contribution to permanent weight loss.

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