The questions keep coming in to our Ask a Trainer feature!
Not all questions are answered in each edition. If your question didn’t appear in this issue please check back soon.
Some days I jog on the treadmill for 25 min at 5.5 miles/hour, other days I walk for 45 min at 4 miles/hour. I know any exercise is good, but generally speaking, how much walking does someone have to do to equal one of their jog sessions?
-Linda, Sooke British Colombia
You’re absolutely right. General thought among health institutions in recent years has been to suggest that activity, any activity, will help combat obesity or diseases associated with unhealthy weight such as diabetes, hypertension or heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). They go on to say that “physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories”.
My interpretation of this is that people are so resistant to physical activity that institutions have more success by pleading with us to simply “move”, rather than telling us what they recommend we do at a more specific level.
Despite the AHA saying that they strive simply for “movement”, they would likely agree that not all movements are the same. Different exertions have different effects on your body, and on long enough timelines, alter your health in different ways. In the most extreme example, strength training like Arnold Schwarzenegger will produce a very different result than marathon training like Meb Keflezighi.
In your specific case, low-exertion walking will never perfectly “add up” to equal moderate intensity jogging. You could eventually find that you’ve burned a similar amount of calories, but the larger results of each kind of activity are more unique.
Benefits of Walking:
Benefits of Jogging:
- Potentially Higher Levels of Fat Loss
- Greater Energy Expenditure over the Same Period of Time
- Greater Improvement in Maximal Oxygen Uptake (VO2 Maximum)
- Greater Appetite Suppression
Benefits Found in Both
Reduced Risk of:
If you maintain a style of activity over a greater period of time you’re likely to see a more pronounced benefit (for example, most academic studies on the effect of a single style of exercise will never run shorter than 8-10 weeks). To put it simply, though, you have to do what makes you happy and what you are more likely to sustain. If you believe you will be more successful by alternating your style of exercise, more power to you! You’re only benefiting yourself by moving, regardless of whether that means walking, jogging, or alternating between the two.
My health metrics report shows that my cholesterol is high. I work out regularly and have even been following some of the recommendations from your previous posts, Any further advice on that topic specifically?
-Nick, Nashville TN
Cholesterol is tricky. It completely defies the “eye test”, meaning that healthy-looking individuals can actually have unhealthy cholesterol levels.
What makes it more difficult to navigate is that cholesterol is a multi-faceted statistic. Commonly, blood tests will give you three values; an LDL and HDL value and a total cholesterol score. LDL is the bad cholesterol, HDL is the good cholesterol, and total blood cholesterol is your HDL + LDL + 20% of your triglyceride level. Long story short, all of this adds up to determine how likely you are to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
There are two things that you can do to boost your good cholesterol and reduce the bad. If you’re already exercising you’re on the right path.
Exercise is thought to boost the enzymes that shuttle LDL to your liver where it can be processed into bile or excreted.
Moderate exercise is good for cholesterol reduction (12 miles of walking or jogging per week) but vigorous exercise is better (20 miles of walking or jogging per week).
Dietary discretion is paramount! Unfortunately, it’s commonly the hardest part to change. If you really want to see your values improve start by following some dietary suggestions offered by the Mayo clinic.
- Choose healthier fats. Saturated fats, found in red meat and dairy products, raise your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. As a general rule, you should get less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. Instead, choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats — found in olive, peanut and canola oils — for a healthier option.
- Eliminate Trans fats. Trans fat can be found in fried foods and many commercial baked products, such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. Most Trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated Trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol.
- Limit the cholesterol in your food. Aim for no more than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day. For example, one whole egg contains roughly 185 mg of cholesterol. The most concentrated sources of cholesterol include organ meats, egg yolks and whole milk products. Use lean cuts of meat, egg substitutes and skim milk instead.
- Select whole grains. Various nutrients found in whole grains promote heart health. Choose whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat flour and brown rice.
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fiber, which can help lower cholesterol.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, mackerel and herring, can help lower your LDL cholesterol. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, almonds and ground flaxseeds.
If there’s any other way that we can help please let us know!
After two C-sections and 30 pounds weight loss I am still disappointed in my post-baby belly. How do I tighten my LOWER abs to get back to a semi-toned look?
-Leslie, Edison NJ
“Spot Training”, or the desire to alter a specific area of your body, is a tricky ambition.
Right off the bat, let’s dispel a myth. You cannot selectively burn fat. If you did enough bicep curls to burn a pound of fat, the fat loss would very likely occur elsewhere in the body. Any fat reduction that might happen in the arms would be purely by chance, not due to your dedicated efforts.
Even if you could directly burn fat, isolation exercises (such as the above-mentioned bicep curls) are poor fat burners.
You can, however, selectively build muscle. Bicep curls can increase the size of your muscle cells in your arms, but will likely not result in increased musculature in your calves, no matter how hard you try.
How does all of this relate to your question? Losing the unwanted fat in your abdomen is best accomplished by doing total-body exercises that have been found to successfully torch fat. Gaining tone specifically in your core, though, is possible through supplementing site-specific exercises to your overall exercise routine.
I would suggest that you take a three-part approach to your goals.
1) Find a progressive, full-body resistance program that fits your schedule and your personality. Your LifeSpan Fitness Club exercise calendar is a great place to start. With your two children though, an in-home workout program such as P90X or Insanity could also be very effective. These programs offer high-intensity, compound workout routines that are traditionally very good at reducing body fat. For a free alternative, check out body rock fitness, a web-based program that’s found an incredible following with at-home exercisers.
(please note that some of these external pages contain promotional images that some might find to not appropriate for work)
3) Avoid common nutrition pitfalls and take control of your intake through gentle lifestyle changes.
Congratulations on your babies and good luck moving forward!
If I wore an activity monitor, where would I start? What should be my goal for how many steps to take?
-Diane, Dade City FL
If you’re dedicated to making your health a priority in your life you need to gently create sustainable changes. This applies to everything, from nutrition to exercise. As it pertains to a walking program, knowing where you currently stand can help pave the way to where you want to be. Start by identifying how many steps you’re taking each day without changing any aspect of your activity. After a few days you’ll have a baseline of information to work from.
Most major health groups believe that 10,000 steps each day is the appropriate amount of daily walking to prevent major diseases and promote overall health. If you’re currently taking fewer steps than suggested, identify simple ways that you can improve your step total to get closer to the suggested 10,000 daily steps. Common advice states that an additional 500 steps, or ¼ mile, each day per week is a manageable, healthy boost to your activity. Skip the elevator up and down (26 extra steps per flight), walk around your car once prior to getting in (20 extra steps), or get up and walk at least 50 steps once an hour during your work day (400 extra steps).
Let’s be real, though. People aren’t machines and aren’t replicas of one another. Let an activity tracker be a blessing, not a source of negativity. If 10,000 steps a day isn’t something that you are able to achieve, push yourself to reach your personal best, regardless of what that is.
I’m 72 years old, 5′ 11″ 203 lbs. I work out at a gym 3-4 days a week for about 1 hour each time. I walk approx. 4-5 miles each day. I would like to lose at least 10 lbs. more but just can’t seem to do it.
-Ronald, Waukesha WI
Not all exercise is created the same! One type of exercise can produce very different results than another, even if they might seem very similar. By analyzing the style of exercise that you’re completing you can potentially unlock the path to your desired weight loss goals. Slight tweaks can make big differences! Take a look at the suggestions below and see if they can be incorporated into your exercise practices.
Before making any changes, however, please make sure that you are completing each exercise safely and within the capabilities of your medical history.
1) Exercise Using Compound Movements. Compound motions incorporate multiple joints into a single exercise, meaning that you’re activating more muscle tissue during a single repetition. For example, during a squat you are creating motion around the ankles, knees and hips. This is a sharp contrast to an isolation exercise, such as a quadriceps extension, that only requires motion at the knee. Among numerous other benefits, compound exercises provide more bang for your buck by making better use of your time invested at the gym.
Examples of Compound Exercises:
- Flat bench presses (barbell, dumbbell or machine), incline/decline bench presses (barbell, dumbbell or machine), dips.
- Deadlifts, chinups, weighted pull ups, pulldowns, rows (barbell, dumbbell, or machine), T-bar rows.
- Overhead presses (barbell, dumbbell or machine), upright rows, and remember front deltoids are worked on all presses!
- Underhand-grip chinups, underhand-grip pulldowns, underhand grip rows (all types), and remember biceps get slightly worked on all rows and pulldown movements regardless of grip.
- Dips, close-grip bench presses (barbell, Smith machine), and remember triceps get significantly worked on ALL presses.
- Squats, leg presses, lunges, step-ups.
-Thank you to Eric Helms of simplyshredded.com for composing the above collection of exercises-
2) Don’t Exclusively Use Machines. Resistance machines can be phenomenal for certain populations and very specific goals, but they aren’t highly beneficial for those seeking functional fitness or body composition (fat loss) changes. Generally speaking, resistance machines don’t require much core engagement or promotion of balance, making them hard to translate to daily activities. Throw in the fact that they aren’t time efficient and it starts to become clear that you can better dedicate your time. Most of the exercises listed above can be completed without machinery and can help expedite your progress.
3) Stay Away From Steady-State “Cardio”: Motion is good, regardless of how it’s accomplished. If you’re walking 4-5 miles a day it’s still benefiting your health. If you’re looking for accelerated weight loss, however, there are ways that you can optimize your time spent on the treadmill. Kim from Boston asked a question last week about weight loss that is very similar to yours. Check out the link above for the full answer, but long story short, if you’re currently using your treadmill for exercise, try changing up your exercise program to include high intensity workouts based off of your own defined personal exertion scale. If you prefer to stay at walking speeds but want to increase your intensity, simply boost your incline.
4) Eat Clean and Within Your Means: Easily the most difficult item of all! In most cases, ingesting more calories than you’re burning is going to result in weight gain. This can be kept in check through measures as simple as keeping a food journal, taking smaller portions at each meal, and eliminating empty calories from your diet such as candy and soda.
Good luck to you, Ronald. If you need any assistance as you press forward please don’t hesitate to reach out again.
The gym I go to always talks about speeding up your results with personal training. I can never tell what’s actually true and what’s a sales gimmick. What are your thoughts about personal training?
-Ben, Des Moines Iowa
Personal training is incredibly hit or miss. As an industry it has grown substantially in the last two years. Certification programs have become more popular and fairly simple to achieve. This has built up a substantial pool of trainers who are professionally inexperienced, and in my personal opinion, under educated. Considering that exercise contains certain risks, especially resistance training, an under-qualified trainer can not only hurt your wallet but also your body.
But, when done with the right professional, personal training can be a phenomenal tool towards improving your health and expediting your results. I’ve used a three-part set of criteria when answering this question for other people, hopefully it can better answer your question.
1) Do you have the personality type that fits personal training? Working with a fitness professional isn’t for everyone. Good trainers hold their clients highly accountable to multiple aspects of their fitness (including nutrition) and expect you to follow programs that aren’t always fun, convenient or easy. Simply hiring a trainer doesn’t guarantee results, it’s a multi-faceted dedication. If you work better on your own or have a hard time taking direction from someone, it might not be your cup of tea.
2) Does your gym have quality trainers? Never let your gym tell you which trainer you will be working with. They’re often simply trying to fill the schedules of all of their staff and aren’t always looking out for your best interests. If you’re likely spending $60 per session with a trainer you need to do your due diligence. Check three items before signing on with a trainer. First, how are they educated? The best trainers have brains that are stronger than their biceps. Second, what is their experience level? As with most professions, on-the-job errors become less prevalent with practice. Third, how is their personality and dedication to you? Do you feel comfortable and respected by them? Are they fully aware of your unique goals? You may workout with the trainer, but the trainer works for you. Their dedication to your personal goals is paramount.
3) Are sample sessions available to you? Most gyms or trainers will do a free session with you to show you what an everyday experience would be like. Most of the time these sessions are meant to close a deal or persuade you to purchase. Don’t hesitate to use the time for your own personal research. Ask your trainer hard questions and challenge their answers. Have them substantiate their recommendations or explain their logic. Get a sense of their body language and mannerisms to see if your time together would be pleasant and comfortable. Mostly though, ask them exactly what they have in mind for you and just how they expect to implement their plan.
Whether you go at it alone or with the help of a trainer, best of luck to your health and fitness ambitions!
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