There are many reasons we exercise. Some people exercise to prevent illness such as cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. Others exercise for mental health and as a stress release. Others do it to improve strength, flexibility and endurance to prepare for a sport. But the No. 1 reason people exercise is to lose weight.


When it comes to losing weight, patients have asked me a wide variety of questions over the years. Some, however, are consistent: “What exercise is the best to burn calories?” “Even though I exercise two or three times per week, why can’t I lose weight?” “What is BMR?” “If I eat a Snickers bar, how much exercise do I need to do to burn it off?” “Are there any tools that I can use to help me track my calories and exercise output?”

Burning calories
Have you ever heard people say they never felt like they burned more calories than when they ran? Well, they might be right. For a 150-pound male, in one hour, running 6 mph will burn about 700 calories (11-12 calories per minute); vigorously skipping with a jump rope or fast cycling will do the same; vigorous walking at 4 mph and moderate biking will burn 600-plus calories (10 calories per minute). The 400-500 calorie club includes slow jogging, swimming, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, skiing and moderate walking (3.5 mph). Light gardening burns more calories than playing golf using a cart (250 versus 180).

The role of metabolism
“It’s hard for me to lose weight because I have a slow metabolism.” That’s a common refrain, but what does it mean? First, you must understand BMR — basic metabolic rate. That’s the number of calories your body requires to operate basic body functions that you don’t actively control, such as breathing, and keeping your cells and organs working each day.

BMR is influenced by age, height, gender, body fat and fitness level, and it is inherently different in each individual. While you can’t change your gender or height, you can change some things to influence your BMR and burn more calories at rest. One: Exercise for longer durations, with greater intensity and more frequently. Two: Lower your body fat by getting fewer calories, especially from fat and carbohydrates — simply, eat fewer calories than you burn. Three: Improve your muscle/fat ratio by weight training.

A key measurement is the basic metabolic index, which is calculated using gender, height and weight. You can calculate yours online at http://bit.ly/BMIcheck, a site run by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. A BMI of less than 18.5 indicates you’re underweight; 18.5-24.5 is normal weight; 25-29.9 is overweight; and 30 or over is obesity. For example, I am a 57-year-old male, weighing 150 pounds at 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a BMI of 22.8.

There are several tools available free online to help with tracking calories and exercise, like www.calorie-counter.net or www.myfooddiary.com, or the “Lose It!” app.

Depending on exercise alone to lose weight is an exercise in futility. Losing weight requires an intelligent and consistent combination of a balanced diet with portion control, proper nutrition, adequate exercise and activity grounded in lifestyle changes.

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