If you have struggled to lose weight, despite trying any number of popular diets, you may be approaching the matter in the wrong way. Dieting rarely results in long-term weight loss, particularly if it requires any significant reduction in calorie intake. The problem with a low-calorie diet is twofold: first, it causes your metabolism to go into conservation mode, slowing down in an attempt to save as many calories as possible against coming starvation; second, without sufficient calories, your body loses muscle, which is the body tissue that burns the most calories, even when at rest. The more muscle you lose, the slower your body burns calories.
Although aerobic exercise is always a healthy practice to incorporate into your daily routine, aerobic exercise alone will not produce the weight loss you are looking for. It can certainly burn calories, but like dieting, after a certain amount of aerobic activity your body will begin to conserve calories, and when you stop exercising the calorie burning stops as well, and your metabolism goes right back to where it was before you began.
Lifting weights, however, can increase muscle mass (and thus metabolism), resulting in long-term weight loss. As we age, the body normally begins to lose lean muscle and bone mass. By incorporating strength training into your workouts, you can keep this from happening. Weight lifting not only builds lean muscle, it also helps to maintain healthy bone density.
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is responsible for 50%-80% of your body’s daily expenditure of energy, and the more muscle you have, the greater your BMR. A study conducted by Boston University found that the type of muscle created during weight training stimulates the burning of fat in other tissues, such as the liver. The results of another study, performed by Tufts University, showed that subjects who performed strength training for 12 weeks gained three pounds of muscle, lost four pounds of fat, had a seven percent increase in their resting metabolism and showed a 15 percent increase in the level of their daily energy requirement.
Another study conducted by Fitness Management Magazine evaluated the effect of strength training on the body composition of 72 overweight male and female volunteers. The study subjects were put into one of two groups: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise only or 15 minutes of aerobic exercise combined with 15 minutes of weight training. The results were significant. The aerobic-only group lost an average of 3.5 pounds, a half-pound of which was loss of muscle. However, the combined aerobic and strength training group lost an average of 8 pounds, having lost 10 pounds of fat, while gaining two pounds of healthy lean muscle mass.
Simply put, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. For optimal results, aim to lift weights three times a week for 45-50 minutes each session. However, if you are pressed for time, even two sessions per week of 15-20 minutes can bring about positive changes.
It may not seem you are losing much weight when you first begin your strength training program, as your body will first gain more lean muscle mass in relation to the fat you are losing, so the results will not necessarily be reflected in the numbers on your scale. Not to worry, you are gaining healthy muscle, soon to be followed by a greater loss of fat!