Tag Archives: activity

New reasons why it is so easy to gain weight. And what you can do to stop it.

If you have been gaining weight or find it more and more difficult to maintain your weight, you are not alone. According to current statistics, one-third of U.S. adults are obese and two-thirds are considered overweight. Being overweight is now the norm in America, since only about 3 in 10 people are at a healthy body weight.

This is consistent with other reports that show that the waistlines of Americans are expanding. One recent study looked at the percentage of adults who had a high waist circumference (over 35 inches for women and over 40 inches for men). Overall, the average American added over one inch to their waist circumference over the past decade. As of 2012, over half of U.S. adults meet the criteria for abdominal obesity. This is bad news, since excess fat, especially around the waist, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

It wasn’t always this way. As recently as the 1980s the prevalence of obesity was much lower, around 15%. There has been much interest in figuring out why this widespread weight gain has occurred. While there is no single cause, there are a host of factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Obesity


Among the forces that seem to be working against you are your genetics and our environment, specifically as it relates to eating and activity behaviors.  Over the past several decades our “food environment” has changed so that now low-quality, high-calorie food is readily accessible and more nutritious food is harder to find and more expensive. Our “activity environment” has changed, too. For most of us, the physical activity that was common at work and home years ago has been replaced by lots of sitting. While there are genes that influence our eating and activity behaviors, these genes have not changed enough over time to explain the obesity epidemic.

A practical explanation for weight gain, both for individuals and the population as a whole, is that we are eating more and expending less energy through activity. Indeed, even small changes in energy balance can add up to increased weight over time . A new study, however, suggests that there may be other factors that may have contributed to the rise in obesity beyond eating and activity.

Among these factors are exposure to certain chemicals in the environment, the use of prescription drugs that cause weight gain, and how our current diet has changed the bacteria in our intestines, that we now know regulate our physiology in surprising ways. For example, bisphenol A (BPA), still found in some plastics, food containers, and receipts, alters normal hormone activity in a way that may increase fat storage.

There is some good news, though. Eating a healthy diet and being active everyday can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. This is true whether your concern is changes in your own eating and activity habits or these other potential causes of weight gain. Indeed, regular exercise may help treat many conditions, like depression, for which prescription medications that may cause weight gain are often used. And a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in added sugar may help restore more normal gut bacteria which might help with weight control.

Until we know otherwise, eating smart and moving more is still your best approach to weight control and good health.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Despite the controversy, energy balance still matters.

The concept of energy balance has been in the news again this past week. Unfortunately, the media reports focused on controversial funding for a network of researchers, not on practical information that could help people with weight control. In my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week I take the opportunity to explain what energy balance means and, despite the controversy, how it can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

walking weight loss


First, it is worth explaining what energy balance means. Basically, the energy balance model suggests that your body weight is determined by the balance between the number of calories you consume and the number of calories you expend each day. It is often illustrated as “calories in, calories out” and is the basis for the most basic weight loss advice: eat less and move more.

Now for the controversy. It was recently reported that the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), an organization aimed at promoting activity and health, received money from Coca-Cola, a company that promotes the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.  Furthermore, the obesity and exercise researchers at GEBN started focusing more on the lack of activity, instead of unhealthy food, as a major cause of obesity. Whether this is truly a real conflict of interest or simply a reality of funding a non-profit health organization remains to be seen.

It is important to note that this doesn’t mean that the efforts of GEBN scientists or the concept of energy balance in general should be dismissed. In fact, the energy balance model is a simple and effective way to explain how weight gain and weight loss occur. In fact, the only treatments we have for obesity focus on changing energy intake and energy expenditure. While some suggest that the “calories in, calories out” idea is too simplistic, it certainly helps people understand why they have gained weight and provides an intuitive guide to losing weight. This is most commonly expressed as “eat less, move more” and is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program.

For most researchers, practitioners, and people in general, the focus is typically on the “energy in” and “eat less” parts of the equation. Nearly all diets work by reducing the number of calories someone eats, even if they claim that you can eat as much as you want. Common recommendations to cut back on sugar or fat tend to lead to eating fewer calories, especially if those foods are replaced by fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Since we now know that eating fat won’t necessarily make you fat, the emphasis has shifted to sugar as a cause of weight gain. And sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, are a major source of sugar for many people, especially children. So, most experts recommend consuming less soda, candy, and other sources of added sugar.

But there is another part of the energy balance model that can’t be ignored—energy expenditure. One goal of the GEBN is to emphasize the importance of activity in achieving energy balance and a healthy body weight. The focus on physical activity makes sense considering that the component of energy expenditure you can control is your activity level. This includes exercise, other occupational and leisure activity, and limiting sedentary (sitting) time, with a goal to be as active as possible throughout the day. The key is to achieve a balance between what you eat and drink and the energy you expend by being active.

The importance of exercise and energy expenditure for weight loss is shown by the members of the National Weight Control Registry, commonly called the “successful losers” because they have lost an average of over 50 lbs and kept it off for over five years. They lost weight by following a variety of diets and programs but nearly all continue to exercise regularly. This suggests that physical activity to promote “energy out” is at least as important as diet when it comes to maintaining weight loss.

In fact, if energy expenditure is high enough, a person could get away with eating almost anything he or she wants. In the 2008 Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps famously revealed what he ate on a typically day. The amount and type of foods he consumed were not what you would expect from someone so fit and healthy! Without the hours of training he engaged in each day that diet would almost certainly have resulted in obesity and poor health.

Clearly, increasing physical activity is important both for weight control and health in general. But diet matters, too. And while the energy balance model says that there is nothing wrong with having your favorite foods or drinks as long as you are active, most of us could benefit from drinking less soda and moving a bit more. In this way, keeping yourself in energy balance should allow you to maintain a healthy weight without depriving yourself too much. The key is, and always has been, to find a balance between what you eat and drink and the energy you expend by being active.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Start planning for your summer vacation now.

If you intend to take a vacation this summer, the time to start planning is now. Of course, you need to make figure out where and when you want to go, make travel arrangements, and plan activities. If your vacation will involve activities like hiking, cycling, or swimming, you also need to make sure you are ready for that level of activity. Even sightseeing and visiting theme parks can require far more activity than many people are accustomed to.

Unfortunately, many people find out the hard way—sore feet and achy legs, for example—that they weren’t prepared for this level of activity. The good news is that regular exercise can prepare you for your summer vacation so you can focus on having fun, not your tired body. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


family hiking

There is good reason to choose an active vacation. Simply spending time outdoors can reduce stress and make you feel better and walking on the beach or snorkeling in the ocean seems like fun, not exercise. The end result is that being active on your vacation adds to the restorative effect of taking time away from your usual routine. In one study people who had a physically active vacation reported that they felt mentally and physically fitter, felt more balanced and relaxed, could concentrate better during work, were in a better mood, and felt more recuperated than those who took it easy.

Even if you don’t choose a vacation to participate in a specific exercise you will likely spend time being active. Most vacation destinations are selected in part because there are interesting sights to see or are easy to get around without a car. This means you will be on your feet a lot more than usual.

Think about a family trip to Disney World. It is not uncommon for people to be on their feet for 12 hours and walk 10–15 miles in a single day. Most people don’t do that much walking in a typical week! This can lead to blisters, muscle soreness, and fatigue, limiting what you can do and, at the very least, making your time less enjoyable.

Since regular exercise promotes endurance and strength, being fit can make it easier to get through long days on vacation. If you spend much of your time sitting at work and home, visiting a museum or standing in long lines at a theme park can be daunting. But if you spend more of your day up and moving you will have an easier time in these situations. A whole day walking around sightseeing can be exhausting, but less so if you are accustomed to taking long walks. That isn’t to say that you should start walking for 10 hours each day, but doing activities that last for at least an hour will help.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next active vacation. You should limit your sitting time and spend more time standing and moving around at work and at home. This will help you get ready for long days on your feet. Dedicating 30 minutes each day to being active will build endurance, and you can get bigger benefits from doing more. If your vacation will include vigorous exercise, building strength through resistance training and flexibility through stretching or yoga can help you avoid injury.

Your goal should be enjoy your vacation and the extra activity it will likely include. In addition to the numerous other health benefits, improving your fitness through regular physical activity will help you appreciate your vacation time more with less stress, meaning you can return home relaxed and ready to take on your usual routine.

Our toxic activity environment, and what you can do about it.

Last week I introduced the idea that we live in a “toxic environment,” which provides easy access to high-calorie, unhealthy, inexpensive food and promotes physical inactivity. The focus was on the toxic food environment, so now it is time to explore our toxic activity environment and how you can modify it to increase your activity, which can help you lose weight.

Los_Angeles_-_Echangeur_autoroute_110_105


The environment affects our physical activity on several levels. The built environment refers to the layout of our communities, including roads, sidewalks, availability of public transportation, where homes and businesses are located, and even the design of buildings. If you live in a mixed-use area in which there are lots of well-maintained sidewalks that connect your home to schools, parks, churches, restaurants, shops, and businesses, the built environment is likely to support more activity. In larger cities, an effective public transportation network can increase your activity.

However, many people live in areas where there aren’t sidewalks or, if there are, the distances between destinations are too far to make walking convenient. Or they live in a neighborhood that is separated by distance or geography (a busy road, perhaps) from other places they go. Even when sidewalks are present, using them may be challenging due to poor maintenance, automobile traffic, or dangerous road crossings. Even when signals for pedestrians exist, there may not be enough time to safely cross the street, a serious limitation for those with limited mobility. In many cases, the built environment can actually discourage—even prevent—physical activity.

The built environment includes indoor spaces, too. If the building you work in has clean, safe, and accessible stairs, you will be more likely to use the stairs rather than the elevator. Even the design of offices and workspaces can influence activity. If your office has a desk and a chair, it is almost guaranteed you will sit much of the day. Even the small increase in activity that comes from using a standing desk or an alternative to a traditional chair, like sitting on a stability ball, can add up during the day. Some people even have treadmill desks, so they can walk while they work!

At work and at home, technology and labor-saving devices make it easy to be inactive. At work you can communicate with coworkers by phone or email instead of walking to their office to talk. Entire groups of people can have meetings via video in which each person is seated at their own desk, even though everyone works in the same building. At home you can change the TV channel, connect with friends and family, even order dinner from the comfort of your couch. Riding lawn mowers and leaf blowers reduce the physical effort needed to do yard work and robotic vacuums allow you to sit and watch your floors get cleaned.

The good news is that you can change the way in which you interact with the toxic activity environment to increase your level of activity. You may need to drive to a store or restaurant if it is too far to walk, but you can park farther away to get a few extra steps. You can get up from your desk to talk to a coworker rather than calling or sending an email. At home you can get up off the couch during commercials or take short “screen time” breaks to move. And it is perfectly alright to leave the leaf blower in the garage and use a rake to clean up the yard.

Your metabolism (and how to speed it up)

Many people are interested in speeding up their metabolism in an effort to lose weight. There are drugs, supplements, and even certain foods that are thought to increase metabolism. The effectiveness of many of these things is unproven and some may actually be dangerous. The goal of this article is to explain what the term “metabolism” really means and how it can be changed.

Metabolism refers all of your body’s processes that expend energy, or burn calories. Practically, this is how much carbohydrate, fat, and protein is burned throughout the day to provide energy for your cells. If you expend more energy than you consume in your diet, you will lose weight.

The amount of energy you expend in a day is composed of three main components: your resting metabolic rate (RMR), something called the thermic effect of food (TEF), and the energy you expend in activity.

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is sometimes called the basal metabolic rate (BMR), but many people refer to it as their “metabolism.” No matter which name is used, it refers to the calories you burn at rest. It represents the energy needed to maintain your essential body functions: heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and normal cellular processes.

The RMR is important because it represents about 60–70% of the total calories a typical person burns in a typical day. Even though RMR is important, you shouldn’t worry about it too much.

First, it is difficult to change. RMR is based mostly on your lean body mass, so the only way to increase it is to gain muscle mass. While this is a good goal, it is challenging to do, especially while you trying to losing weight.

Second, although it does vary among people, it isn’t as different as people like to think. It is easy to think that someone who gains weight has a “slow metabolism” or that someone who is thin must have a “fast metabolism.” In reality, the RMR probably isn’t much different, certainly when you take lean body mass into account. The explanation for the differences in weight among people probably has more to do with what they eat and how active they are.

The thermic effect of food (TEF) represents the energy needed to digest, absorb, and store the nutrients you eat. It accounts for only about 10% of your total energy expenditure and it is practically impossible to change, so you can ignore it.

Activity is the most variable component of energy expenditure and the one you can most readily change. Obviously, it will vary based on how active you are, but for most people it accounts for 20–30% of total energy expenditure.

Activity includes both purposeful movement such as exercise and doing work or tasks that require you to move. Activity also includes non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT, the calories you burn when you move around, but not in a purposeful way. Maintaining your posture when sitting or standing, fidgeting in your chair, or other light movements count as NEAT.

The surest way for you to increase your metabolism is to limit the time you spend sitting, be active as possible at all times, and dedicate time to exercise every day. Doing prolonged aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or exercise classes directly burns calories and including strength training will help increase your muscle mass, which can increase up your RMR.

The bottom line is that speeding up your metabolism requires you to move. So, get up off the couch and go for a walk!

Funny calorie math.

Have you ever heard that a few extra calories each day—an extra soda, for example—can add up to significant weight gain over time? Or that making small changes in what you eat, such as skipping dessert, can promote weight loss? If so, you are familiar with the concept of energy balance. And if you were ever surprised by those claims, you are familiar with what I call funny calorie math.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Your body weight at any time is determined by the balance between the energy you take in and the energy you expend. The “energy in” part is simple, it’s the calories in the food you eat.

Your energy expenditure is determined by your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the calories burned keeping you warm and alive, as well as the energy you expend in activity. Of these, the BMR accounts for the majority of your energy expenditure, but you have the most control over your level of activity.

According to this energy balance model, eating or drinking an additional 250 calories per day would add up to about one pound of weight gain every two weeks and 26 pounds after one year (using the rough estimate that to gain a pound requires 3500 extra calories.

+250 calories/day  x  7 days/week  =  1750 calories/week  =  3500 calories/2 weeks

3500 calories/2 weeks  x  1 lb. weight gain/3500 calories  =  1 lb. weight gain every two weeks  =  26 lbs. weight gain per year!

Calculations like this are common, typically used to point out how fattening a particular food or beverage can be. But the same principle can be applied in reverse to determine weight loss.

Example: Eat (or drink) and extra 250 calories per day

250 calories/day  x  7 days/week  =  1750 calories/week  =  3500 calories/2 weeks

3500 calories/2 weeks  x  1 lb. weight loss/3500 calories  =  1 lb. weight loss every two weeks  =  26 lbs. weight loss per year!

The same formula predicts that cutting back by 250 calories per day should lead to losing 26 pounds in one year. This idea is the basis for suggesting that making small changes to your diet can lead to significant weight loss over time.

You can do the same thing with physical activity, too. Adding a 45-minute walk, which burns approximately 250 calories, each day should lead to the same 26 pounds of weight loss in a year.

Example: walk 2.5 miles in 45 minutes each day, using the rough estimate that you will burn 100 calories per mile.

2.5 miles/day  x  100 calories/mile  =  250 calories/day

250 calories/day  x  7 days/week  =  1750 calories/week  =  3500 calories/2 weeks

3500 calories/2 weeks  x  1 lb. weight loss/3500 calories  =  1 lb. weight loss every two weeks  =  26 lbs. weight loss per year!

The assumption, of course, is that you aren’t changing anything else as you eat 250 fewer calories or burn an additional 250 calories per day through exercise. It would be relatively easy to offset the energy expended though a walk by even a small change in what you eat. This is the biggest weakness of this energy balance model—in order for it to accurately predict weight loss or gain, nothing else can change.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the way it really works. Changes in body weight through eating or exercise also lead to changes in total energy expenditure. As you lose weight, the total calories you burn in a day drops, mostly due to a decrease in BMR, since it is based on your body weight. The result is that over time you don’t lose weight as quickly. The exact opposite occurs with weight gain, which causes BMR to go up, limiting weight gain.

This leads to a different outcome: the extra 250 calories per day is likely to lead to a weight gain of closer to 10 pounds (maybe less) due to your BMR increasing as you gain weight over the year. And the estimation of weight loss will be different, too, given that BMR will drop slightly over time.

This is one of many reasons why exercise is important for weight loss. You can offset the lower BMR that occurs as you lose weight by increasing energy expenditure through activity. Additionally, regular exercise can add to the weight you lose through a diet and help keep the weight off later.