Losing weight is not an easy task, especially as you approach your middle years and beyond. Cutting calories may work, but, if you have been sedentary, you will find more success if you also start exercising. A research study just published in the medical journal Obesity suggests that an exercise program that includes weightlifting may be more effective to lose weight than a program based solely on walking.
Many people gain weight in middle age, from ½ to a kilogram per year, unless they make an active effort to keep their weight down. And this effort is worth it. If you gain weight, you are probably gaining mostly fat, not muscle weight. An unfortunate side effect of gaining fat weight is that it may start somewhat of a vicious cycle of weight gain.
Vicious cycle of weight gain
The reason is that fat is “metabolically inactive” tissue compared with muscle. If you carry around lots of fat, it slows your metabolism overall, and it is easier to gain even more weight. But, on the other hand, if you have more muscle tissue—muscle is much more “metabolically active”—so you tend to gain less weight because the muscle heats up your metabolism overall.
The ideal way to lose weight
Lose more fat than muscle. How can you do that? The study in Obesity suggests you cut calories and start lifting weights, preferably 3 to 4 times per week. If you mix weight training with walking, even better, but starting a weightlifting program is essential.
The researchers studied 249 adults over the period of 18 months. The participants were 72% female, at least 60 years old, and all were non-exercisers who were overweight or obese. The volunteers were randomly split into 3 groups.
All 3 groups were instructed to diet over the next 18 months, cutting about 300 calories per day. But the different groups performed different exercises routines during the study. Actually, one group did not start any exercise program at all. The second group started a walking program, 45 minutes, four times a week. The third group did weight training 4 times a week instead of walking. They exercised with trainers to ensure they worked out their entire body; basically, all the muscle groups.
At the end of the 18 months, all participants lost weight. But there was a difference in how much weight they lost—and the type of weight they lost—depending on their exercise routine. The group that did not exercise lost on average about 5.4 kg. The two groups that exercised (walking or weightlifting) each lost an average of 9 kg.
All participants underwent an examination called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), which accurately measures fat vs. muscle. Everone lost fat as well as muscle weight, but the groups that either walked or lifted weights had significantly stronger legs at the end of the program. And, the weightlifting group was able to maintain more muscle tissue than those who only did the walking program.
This study suggests that, if you want to lose weight, cut calories. To lose more weight, start an exercise program as well. And while walking 4 times per week for 45 minutes is very good, you will lose less muscle mass if you take up whole body weight training 4 times per week, rather than walking.
If you are really serious about an ideal weight loss program, your best bet however is to combine both an aerobic program (such as walking) and a weight lifting program on alternate days. Of course, you can take a day or two off per week, but most days you need to actively exercise for best results. Good luck!
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