I was hoping the title of this post would get your attention because I wanted to share more of the valuable information I have been learning in my fat metabolism course from professor Len Kravitz, PhD., CSCS, with you today! Researchers are constantly learning more and more about how the body responds to exercise and that science is beneficial in dispelling some common myths and misconceptions about ‘fat burning.’
The best way to burn more fat is not a secret pill, powder, fast, or ‘method’ — it’s much more simple (and yet, so interestingly complex within our body!) than that. To burn more fat, we must keep our body and its systems strong and healthy, and exercise is a remarkable tool to help us do this.
As I have been learning more about how the body responds to fitness, it made me think of this quote:
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau
We can be so focused on what we’ll get when we achieve our goals (such as reaching a goal weight or body composition) that we don’t realize (or recognize!) how much evolution happens on the way there. Working towards your goals is the transformational part — whether it’s a fitness or life goal – and learning to enjoy and evolve during the process can be the difference between happiness and contentment now versus thinking everything will change once you arrive at your destination.
This quote also applies so well to the process and purpose of exercise in our lives. We are often so focused on achieving metrics such as calories burned, miles or steps logged, reps counted, etc., that it’s easy to forget that the most important thing exercise does for us is to change who we are becoming.
Exercise changes us at a cellular level.
Regular exercise improves the health and strength of our cells in a way that makes the body more efficient at burning fat.
Strength training, for instance, not only helps build muscle tissue and bone density, but there’s also a unique activity that happens within the muscle cells that cause our body to burn more fat long after we finish training. The contractile activity that occurs under load disrupts everything in a muscle cell. This disruption is actually a very healthy activity for the cell as it makes it stronger. After the workout, the cell’s nucleus needs to ‘reorganize’ itself; and to do this, it uses fat for fuel.
Exercise also improves the size and number of mitochondria in our body. Why is that important? According to Len Kravitz, PhD., “mitochondria are remarkably adaptable organelles within skeletal muscle that can impressively boost a muscle’s capability to burn fat, improve insulin sensitivity (and thus help to manage or prevent pre-diabetes or diabetes), minimize fatigue and enhance their own capacity to synthesize fuel for physical activity and exercise.” Kravitz also notes that these mitochondrial improvements are possible in both young and older populations: “mitochondria are most capable of improving their biological function and thus enhancing the quality of life of the exercising individual. It’s never too late to start moving.”
Research shows the average increase in resting metabolic rate is approximately 100 calories per day (and that’s not including calories burned during the workout and not just on workout days), with just two to three multi-set resistance training workouts per week. While that doesn’t sound like much, that adds to about ten pounds of calories annually. So please don’t get too hung up on the exact number of calories you are expending during a workout — it’s the potential of your body’s improved fat-burning-efficiency that matters most.
(This is also why you don’t need to worry about exercising in a fasted state – or on an empty stomach – to burn more fat. When you exercise in a ‘fed’ state, your body performs better during your workout, allowing you to burn more fat for much longer, up to 24 hours, after exercise.)
Exercise positively influences our hormones.
After strength training, growth hormone spikes post-workout, promoting greater fat oxidation (‘burn’) long after the session ends. We also know that regular cardio exercise leads to much more efficient fat burning. And aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve the level of circulating thyroid hormones in our body, helping to improve our fat metabolism.
Exercise improves our capabilities and reverses the aging process.
Consistent resistance training helps us walk faster, think better, and improve our movement control and physical performance — it can even help to reverse the aging process. And all of this contributes to our ability to maximize our fat-burning potential, among many other positive things!
The more often you exercise, the better at fat burning you become
Those new to exercise may see more dramatic body composition changes at the start of a workout program, but the good news is that those who work out regularly reap even better benefits. Compared to untrained individuals, trained people are better able to burn fat, says Kravitz, “because of differences in the muscle’s ability to take up and use fatty acids. Adaptations that enhance fat usage in trained muscle can either improve fatty-acid availability to the muscle and mitochondria or improve the ability to oxidize fatty acids.”
And every little bit counts!
The next time you may want to skip exercise due to time constraints, thinking it won’t be worth it, remember that every little bit of movement does add up. Shorter, consistent workout sessions do much more for your body (and help you stay on the journey of continual, positive change!) than more extended or intensive sessions that are infrequent at best.
Our body is a wonderfully made, intricate machine. Consistent, regular exercise helps keep our systems strong and running smoothly, enabling us to burn more fat and achieve our goals of becoming healthier and more fit.
If you struggle with motivation, try focusing more on what you are becoming by being someone who exercises regularly versus what you will get out of a single workout.
Remember, every step forward counts. 🙂
Here’s to your health!
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