PHYSICALLY BURNING CALORIES IS NOT THE BEST WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT.
All our lives, we have been told that if we just moved more, we should be able to keep fat off our body. But this is not true. Activity alone is a terrible way to lose fat.
The most powerful proof of this fact comes from the Hadza tribe, hunter-gatherers in northern Tanzania. They have a highly active lifestyle, foraging for wild food and game all day and regularly covering long distances on foot. They are moving much of the time, typically in moderate and sustained activity—much like our version of cardio exercise—rather than in explosive bursts. Nor do they do heavy lifting. They needs lots of endurance to live their lives rather than lots of muscle or strength.
Their diet is natural, made up of meats, vegetables, and fruits, as well as lots of honey. In fact, they get 15 to 20 percent of their calories from honey, a simple carbohydrate.
A scientist named Herman Pontzer has been studying the Hadza for more than ten years. One of Pontzer’s central research questions was whether the Hadza burned more calories than their inactive counterparts in industrialized societies. What he and his research team discovered was so mind-blowing that at first they thought they had made a mistake: despite their highly active lifestyle, the Hadza burn a similar amount of calories as city-dwelling Americans and Europeans. The metabolism of the Hadza had adapted and slowed down so that they could survive on only the few calories they ate daily.
Pontzer’s findings underscore the fact that inactivity is not the source of modern obesity and that cardio-type exercise is an ineffective tool for weight loss. Obesity is a disease of overindulgence of energy imbalance—more food goes in than can be burned off, especially with a sluggish metabolism. Put another way: people gain weight when the calories they eat exceed the calories they expend.
Even for highly trained people, physical activity accounts for only a small portion of their daily calorie burn. Most of that energy budget is spent behind the scenes on keeping cells, tissues, and organs in proper working order.
But don’t quit your workouts just yet. Although the Hadza use up most of their total energy on being active, an inactive body is subject to disease-producing inflammation and a high sensitivity to stress, which can lead to illness. This compromised energy mechanism can be overturned by regular physical activity, which makes exercise essential for overall health. But in the words of Pontzer, “in order to end obesity, we need to fix our diet.” He understands that we simply eat too much for how many calories our body actually burns.
TONED IS A MADE-UP WORD.
The fitness industry (like most industries) is driven by its marketing. The result of this has been decades of made-up words and false information designed to get people to buy exercise products, gym memberships, and supplements. Although both men and women are routinely lied to, the fitness industry takes special aim at the female market. This is likely due to the fact that women make up the majority of consumers in almost any market, and this is especially true in the fitness industry.
Muscles don’t “tone.” They either build or they shrink. As a muscle builds, it begins to feel harder—and it’s this adaptation we typically refer to as “toning.” Nonetheless, if your goal is to get a “toned” body, your goal should be to build muscle. In other words, the best “toning” workouts are the best muscle-building workouts.
I cringe when I look at the fitness programs directed at women. All of them promise to sculpt and “tone” without building huge muscles. The workouts typically use light weights or bands, short ranges of motion to promote a muscle burn, and very high reps. This approach is terrible for building muscle.
If you want to efficiently build muscle and improve your physique, your best bet is to lift heavier resistance and avoid the ineffective workouts and products that are marketed to women.
YOU DO HAVE TIME TO WORK OUT.
The most common excuse for not working out is: “I don’t have time.” Nine out of ten times, people blame lack of time. We’re all busy, sometimes, too busy to get in some moderate exercise our body needs daily to stay fit.
Many people do have crazy schedules, and they are slammed with responsibilities. When you factor in family time, work, household duties, and more, it can be very daunting to go from not going to the gym to dedicating four to five hours a week to exercise (time it takes driving to and from, plus time in the gym working out).
The truth is you can get great fitness results with as little as a grand total of 60 minutes a week of dedicated workout time. In fact, that amount of exercise may even add years to your life. According to a study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, burning only 1,000 calories a week through exercise reduced the risk of dying prematurely. The study emphasized that some activity is better than none, but more is also better than some.
The key is also to make the workout as effective as possible—not “as hard as possible.” The workouts you’re about to learn are based on these principles: they’re time efficient, they get results, and they can be done in the convenience of your home.
YOU CAN GET FAT ON A KETO DIET.
Although the ketogenic diet may seem new or cutting edge, it’s actually an old medical diet. It was first used by doctors in the early twentieth century to control seizures in epileptic patients. This medically based ketogenic diet consisted of 80 percent fat, as few carbohydrates as possible, and a low to moderate amount of protein in the range of 15 to 20 percent of total calories. The incredibly high fat intake combined with the nonexistent carb intake forces the body to produce substances called ketones for energy since it can’t produce sufficient glycogen (stored carbohydrate in muscle tissue). It’s these ketones that seem to control or mitigate some of the effects of certain neurological disorders.
Although keto has medical benefits for select people, it certainly isn’t a magical diet for the masses. It doesn’t give you fat-burning powers, and it doesn’t promote performance improvements for most athletes. Like all diets, there is always an individual variance with how people may respond to keto. For some people, it may work for a while. For others, it won’t.
Not eating any carbs forever severely limits your food choices and is overly rigid. Once someone feels that a diet is too restrictive to maintain (which happens to everyone I have ever known on a ketogenic diet), they reintroduce carbs back into their diet. And this is when all hell breaks loose.
It’s not that carbs are so appetite-stimulating that former ketogenic dieters lose control (although some high-carb heavily processed food choices can stimulate appetite), it’s that breaking free from restriction creates a binge environment. When coming off a ketogenic diet, you are very likely to consume a lot of carbs and exceed your calorie requirements.
CHEAT MEALS STALL YOUR MOMENTUM.
If you are over 15 percent body fat and just starting a diet, having a cheat meal is a very bad idea. I don’t care if it’s Sunday football and there’s nachos and beer. When you’re holding on to extra fat, it’s more likely you will store that cheat meal as more fat.
Okay. Suppose you indulge in something high calorie. I get it. We’re human. We may all have a moment (keyword: moment, not weeks and months) of weakness where we slip up. If that happens by accident, don’t let it throw you off. Just get back on the wagon and see it as a lesson learned.
There is nothing wrong with eating something that is unhealthy. In fact doing so can be healthy when part of a celebration or bonding with family. In those cases, it is a different part of your well-being. When you give yourself permission to enjoy a favorite food every now and then, you’ve created balance in your diet and your life.
The idea of a cheat day or meal is the opposite of balance. The name says it all: cheat. Cheating means naughty. When you cheat on a test, you’re a bad student. When you cheat on your partner, you’re a dishonest, hurtful mate. And when you cheat on your diet, you let your body down. In almost every case, cheating makes you feel guilty, stressed, anxious, discouraged, and completely down on yourself.
Enjoy satisfying and nourishing foods and what they’re doing to your body. If you can enjoy some pizza or cookies with a loved one, more power to you. Savor all your meals in an aware state with gratefulness. Then it is not cheating. It is healthy, balanced eating.
THREE STEPS TO LIVING WELL AND LIVING LONG
- Stay strong.
Physical strength is an excellent predictor of longevity. The stronger you are, the more likely you are to live longer. The opposite is also true, with physical weakness being an accurate predictor of early death.
The fact that people with low muscle strength don’t typically live as long as their stronger peers was revealed in a recent, fascinating study.
After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, chronic health conditions, and smoking history, researchers found that people with low muscle strength are 50 percent more likely to die earlier.
The study measured hand grip strength. For the study, which appears in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 8,326 men and women, ages sixty-five and older, who were part of the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study.
Grip strength can be measured using a device called a dynamometer, which a patient squeezes to measure their strength in kilograms. Researchers identified muscle weakness as having a hand grip strength less than 39 kg for men and 22 kg for women.
Based on the data, 46 percent of the sample population was considered weak at baseline. By comparison, only 10 to 13 percent were considered weak using other cut-points derived from less representative samples.
Prioritize your strength-building strategy, regardless of your age. Strength not only keeps you young, it also improves balance—a superimportant factor as you get older. Without good balance, you’re prone to falls and bone breakage, which can land you in the hospital and possibly lead to permanent disability. You must have a strong body to have an able body.
Beyond resistance training at least twice a week, you can escape ill health and disability by simply moving your body throughout the day. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to walk, bike, hike, or swim, to name just a few daily and beneficial activities.
Do anything but sit! If you spend most of each workday sitting at your desk, your fingers the only part of your body moving with any intensity, you might be in trouble. Technology allows us to work from the relative comfort of our desk, without having to break a sweat or even stand up. Once the workday is over, we transition straight from desk to car to couch, taking barely a step in between.
The ease of our modern workday could come at the expense of our longevity. A study of older women in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that sitting for long stretches of time increases the odds of an untimely death. The more hours women in the study spent sitting at work, driving, lying on the couch watching TV, or engaged in other leisurely pursuits, the greater their odds of dying early from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.
And here’s the kicker: even women who exercised regularly risked shortening their life span if most of their daily hours were sedentary ones.
How exactly sitting contributes to reduced longevity isn’t clear, but there are a few possible mechanisms. Couch-potato behavior has been linked to an increased risk of the development of chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Plus, when you sit, you burn fewer calories than you would while standing, and you demand little effort from your muscles. Sitting too much can also lead to other behaviors that contribute to obesity and heart disease, such as watching TV while snacking on processed snack food.
At the very least, make walking your “movement practice.” And do it briskly. One study found that overweight people who walked at a brisk pace lived fifteen to twenty years longer than those who walked more slowly.
- Avoid processed foods.
Unhealthy cells, vessels, and tissues equal premature aging—skin that increasingly looks older than it should, bones that get weaker than they should, depleted energy, and a brain that gets increasingly cloudy too. Processed foods are loaded with pro-inflammatory ingredients that fuel this rapid-aging chain of events.
Is there an “antiaging diet,” then? Well, science does have some definitive answers based on studying the longest-lived populations in the world—areas referred to as Blue Zones by author and researcher Dan Buettner. In his book called The Blue Zones, Buettner described five known Blue Zones:
Icaria (Greece), an island where people eat a Mediterranean diet rich in fish, olive oil, red wine, and home grown vegetables.
Ogliastra, Sardinia (Italy), home to some of the oldest men in the world. They live in mountainous regions where they typically work on farms and eat lots of natural foods harvested from the land.
Okinawa (Japan), home to the world’s oldest women, who eat a lot of vegetables and soy-based foods.
Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), where the diet is based around beans and corn tortillas.
The Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, a very religious group of people. They’re strict vegetarians and live in tight-knit communities.
All these diets are different, but they have two things in common. First, they are centered on natural, whole foods—nothing processed. This means that Blue Zone folks are taking in nutrients used for energy, health, and antiaging.
Second, none of the people in Blue Zones overeats—which may be a very important antiaging strategy. In fact, at three research centers, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health looked into the value of calorie control to fight aging. The ongoing CALERIE Study (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) is showing that we can live longer, age more slowly, and be more resistant to disease by sustained calorie restriction as long as we eat sufficient amounts of nonprocessed, nutrient-rich food.