Weight control is a lifelong journey. The best time to start is when you are young; the next best time is today. Physical activity is the positive approach to weight control. When you decide to do something about your weight, you are committing to a course of action. No other approach is so physiologically sound, so definite, so enjoyable. Action is more psychologically rewarding than avoidance. When you take a walk after dinner, you relax, improve your digestion, enhance your vitality, and burn fat and calories. After the walk, you feel better both physically and emotionally. Problems loom large when you sit and brood, but how quickly they shrink when you undertake a plan of action!
Dieting carries negative connotations of avoidance, deprivation, and punishment. It creates false hopes, contributes to stress, ruins the disposition, causes fatigue, and often leads to increases in body weight and fat. The ups and downs of frequent dieting (weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting) increase the risk of psychopathology, dissatisfaction with life, binge eating, morbidity, and mortality (Brownell and Rodin 1994). This is also true in young women who are dieting for body image, with the additional problem that weight cycling may promote the onset of atherosclerosis (Montani et al. 2006).
The most exciting part of this chapter deals with the extra benefits that you obtain with improved fitness, benefits that exceed the effects of activity. This material, although not new, is finally coming to the attention of public health and fitness professionals. In our estimation, these extra benefits provide the most convincing case for activity and fitness and their relationship to weight control and health.
Finally, we outline activity, food choices (diet), and a lifelong approach to rational weight control.
Some types of exercise are better than others for weight control. As you know, we gradually shift from fat to carbohydrate metabolism as exercise becomes more vigorous. If you want to burn excess fat, consider light to moderate exercise (see table 13.2). Because you cannot sustain extremely vigorous activity for long, total caloric expenditure may not be great. In addition, fat utilization increases over time, with more fat being burned after 30 minutes of exercise. You can continue light to moderate activity for hours without undue fatigue, thereby allowing significant fat metabolism and caloric expenditure.
Incidentally, while we are on the subject of fat metabolism, the best time to exercise for weight control may be in the morning, before breakfast, when you are more likely to burn fat after an overnight fast. So, if you are interested in fat metabolism and weight control, try morning exercise. If that approach doesn’t suit your biological clock, don’t despair. Exercise always burns calories, so it always contributes to weight control.
Perhaps the best idea is to find an active hobby or sport and make it an essential part of your life. Try woodworking, racquetball, golf, or dancing. Get a canoe or cross-country skis, or start a garden. Dig out the tennis racket and try it. Go ice-skating in winter or roller-skating any time of year. You’ll enrich your life and lower your weight at the same time. Of course, you’ll look better too!