We exercise for a variety of reasons – weight loss, to build muscle tone, to increase strength, to strengthen our heart, to prepare for a sport, etc. Most of us over the age of 50 exercise to improve our health and fitness. This usually includes most of the things I just listed.
If one of your main goals is to lose weight, you may want to look at the type and amount of aerobic exercise you’re doing. Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, biking, and swimming are most useful for strengthening our heart and can be very effective in helping us to reduce body fat. You should be aware that I didn’t say “lose weight” for a very specific reason. We can go on a low calorie diet and lose weight, but it might not help us to be healthier. That’s because without proper exercise we may actually lose weight, but not lose unhealthy fat. And, on the flip side, increasing the amount of exercise we do may actually prevent us from losing as much weight.
Can this be a good thing? Absolutely. When I started training for triathlons back in the 80′s, I lost quite a few inches from various body measurements, but I hardly lost any weight. The reason for this was that the aerobic exercise I was doing helped me burn fat and replaced it with muscle. By volume, muscle weighs more than fat. The types and intensity of aerobic exercises that I was doing to train for triathlons wasn’t ideal for fat loss. What I’m going to talk about here is aerobic exercise targeted primarily toward fat loss.
If you have excess body fat that you need to lose to be healthy you basically need to do two things. One, is to make sure that the amount of calories you burn each day exceeds the calories you take in. That requires that the amount and kind of foods that you eat need to be carefully controlled. One of the reasons that I didn’t lose more weight and body fat when I was training for triathlons was that I was eating a diet extremely high in carbohydrates in order to give my body enough of the right kind of fuel to do long distance running, swimming, and biking. This is not the ideal diet to help a person lose fat.
The second thing necessary for optimum fat loss is to make sure that you exercise in such a way that as many of the calories that you burn come from stored fat as is possible. Again, my triathlon training wasn’t ideal for this because I was trying to train my body to utilize carbohydrates as efficiently as possible and vastly increase my aerobic capacity. I won’t go into the physiological reason here, but let me assure you that the diet and exercise routine for a long distance athlete is different from that of someone whose main goal is to lose fat.
So, how do you tailor your aerobic exercise program to help you lose the maximum amount of fat possible? I’m glad you asked. First of all, make sure you’re on a relatively low fat diet. This will help make sure that your body doesn’t have too many fat calories available from food to burn as fuel. Now, for the most important secret for fat burning using aerobic exercise. You have to make sure that you do your aerobic exercise in the maximum fat burning zone. This is determined by estimating your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age is usually a good estimate). Then determine your fat burning target heart rate (THR) zone by multiplying your maximum heart rate by 55% and 65% to get the range you should keep your heart rate in during your aerobic exercise. Here’s an example: I’m 60 years old, so to determine my estimated maximum heart rate I take 220 minus 60, which is 160. I then take the 160 and multiply it by 55% and 65%. This gives me 88 and 104, which is the range I need to keep my heart rate in while doing aerobic exercise in order to maximize my fat loss. Another important thing to realize is that to optimize fat loss, you should do this type of aerobic exercise for 45 – 60 minutes 4 or 5 times a week. You don’t have to start with that much, but your goal should be to get up to those times.
To keep your heart rate within your appropriate range you will need to check it frequently by taking your pulse. It’s very important that your heart rate stays within your range. If it goes too low you won’t get any benefit. And, if it goes too high you’ll get benefits, but they won’t be the fat burning benefits that you specifically want.
Walking is an excellent form of aerobic exercise to use for maximum fat burning. It’s easy to do almost anywhere, and it requires nothing more than a good pair of walking shoes and appropriate clothing for your exercise environment. If you use walking, try to make sure that you’re walking in an area that is relatively flat. If there are hills, it becomes very difficult to walk at a consistent pace and keep your heart rate within the desired zone. A treadmill and heart rate monitor can be quite useful in helping you to stay in your zone.
Many excellent forms of aerobic exercise aren’t very good for maximum fat loss because they raise your heart rate too high. Things like aerobic dance, jazzercise, stair climbing machines, bicycle spinning classes, etc. are great exercises for strengthening your heart, but they push your heart rate too high for maximum fat loss.
Another nice thing about exercising at a rate that will give you maximum fat loss is that once you lose the fat you’ll be in much better shape to use your aerobic exercise for strengthening your heart even more. You will be in a much better position to workout at higher heart rates if you want to.