Category Archives: Exercise

Will exercising more help me lose weight?

It was a memorable summer. For all the wrong reasons. While I had just returned from a great vacation and was mentally recharged, physically I was in the doldrums, inside and outside. In the three months prior, I had had a super hectic work schedule (which made the vacation that much more gratifying), as a result of which, my lifestyle had suffered in every way possible – food-wise, exercise-wise, rest-wise, family-time-wise, and personal-time-wise.

I felt drained, sluggish and apathetic most of the time. 

I’d developed a chronic lumbar pain, which made sitting for any period longer than 10 minutes painful. My immunity system had taken a hit, and I was struck by long bouts of cold and cough that lasted several weeks. An old shoulder injury had made itself apparent again. Horror of horrors – I’d gained over 3 kilos within a short period of four weeks! And they refused to budge. I wasn’t sleeping well (the cough and the bad back contributed to that equally). I felt drained, sluggish and apathetic most of the time.

But I’m a fighter. I fought back with all I had. I had to get fit. Three days after I returned from vacation, I hit the gym with a vengeance. I briefed my personal trainer about the new health goals I’d set for myself – get my back functioning normally again, drop all the excess weight and then some, and gain meaningful muscle, over the next three months. The almost threatening tone in my voice told him I meant business.

I thought I was killing it. But, alas! 

And business it was – functional training three mornings a week, strength training three evenings a week, yoga twice a week, and a walking routine every weekday. I also downloaded a calorie-tracking app and tracked everything I ate for two months straight. I thought I was killing it. But, alas!

In truth, I was killing myself. I had become a victim of overtraining. I felt worn out and tired all the time. The thought of another early morning HIIT session, another turn at the power cage in the gym, or another walk, put me in a lethargic state of mind immediately. I strengthened my back and lost the extra weight all right, but overall I was drained of energy.

Have you ever gone or seen a friend go through a similar experience? Did the extra exercise ‘work out’ in the end?

Too much of a good thing can also be bad for health.

Exercise has several benefits for the body and should be a regular ritual for everybody, regardless of age or gender. At an overall level, it improves heart health, energy levels, immunity & mood, strengthens bones & muscles (depending on the type of exercise), and helps to manage weight and stress.

However, too much of a good thing can also be bad for health. Your body needs a certain amount of stimulus to allow for removal of waste tissue and generation of new tissue. Exercise provides that stimulus. A well-rounded exercise programme will lead to improvement on all five components of fitness, including an ideal body composition, which addresses fat loss.

But, one must bear in mind that exercise is only one leg of the health tripod, the other two being nutrition and rest. Give yourself less energy than it needs, through a calorie-restricted diet (as I did), and your body will not have enough resources to regenerate its tissues, which break down or get depleted during exercise. Give yourself minimal time for rest and recovery (as I did too) and your body will not have the time to use those resources even if you eat well. The result will be a body worse for the wear.

Exercise is only one leg of the health tripod.

So, to answer the original question, exercise, at the right intensity, does help to streamline your metabolism by providing a stimulus for growth and repair, thus, assisting in weight loss or fat loss. However, simply adding more exercise time to your schedule without appropriate nutrition and rest is only a recipe for disaster.

What other myths/ dilemmas do you face when it comes to exercise?

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I’m not overweight. Why do I need to exercise?

A very close relative, a contemporary of mine, let’s call her P, was a skinny child and a slender teenager. I envied how she never had to care whether any of those cute prom outfits would look nice on her or not. She was decidedly a mesomorph. Her lifestyle allowed enough room for culinary indulgences without causing a large change (pun intended) in how she looked. While I was always goaded by my parents to exercise, she was hardly ever at the receiving end of such parental concern. Luck favoured her well into her twenties. Then, it ran out.

She was decidedly a mesomorph.

A dramatic change in her lifestyle and diet, when she relocated to another city, first started to show up on the scale – she gained over 10 kilos in a single year. A demanding and erratic work schedule aggravated the issue, bestowing digestion problems in parallel. The stress soon began showing on her face in the form of unsightly eruptions. When she got married a few years later, it was as if P had left all cares for her health behind. Five years and a child later, P weighed a full 30 kilos more than she did when she was 22, with her body fat percentage having doubled from 20% to over 40%. She also had severely weakened knees and the beginnings of hypertension.

Luck favoured her well into her twenties. Then, it ran out.

P’s story is not out of the ordinary – this is an eventuality that most women, especially in India, take for granted. Childbirth and raising children are, in fact, considered a licence for letting oneself go and not have to answer for one’s health. The same goes for many men who seem to expand at alarming rates after marriage, all their indulgence justified in the name of love and appreciation for their wives’ cooking. Really? Whom do they think they are kidding? What about the accompanying diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, you-name-it-lifestyle-disease?

I believe this complacency begins early in life, when age, hormones, and the relative lack of responsibilities are all on our side. As children or teenagers, nobody holds it against us if we look a little heavier than average. At that age, the body is so forgiving and supportive that even the most half-hearted exercise regimen can right a lot of dietary wrongs, thanks to a relatively faster metabolism. That’s also when one starts to believe that exercise is not required if one is not fat.

Childbirth and raising children are, in fact, considered a licence by women for letting themselves go and not have to answer for their health.

However, fitness is much more than just about carrying excess body fat. It involves four other critical components too:

  1. Cardio-respiratory endurance – the ability of your heart, blood vessels and lungs to function adequately for a prolonged period of time while carrying out any aerobic activity (recall how some friends of yours quickly get out of breath with the slightest cardio activity?)
  2. Muscular endurance – the ability of your muscles to adequately support your cardio-respiratory system for a prolonged period of time while carrying out any aerobic activity (remember the time you had to cut short your dance class because of the catch in your thighs and shins?)
  3. Musculo-skeletal strength – the ability of your bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles to exert maximum force against any form of resistance (the time when you had to move a heavy log of wood out of the driveway comes to mind?)
  4. Flexibility – the ability of the body to achieve maximum range of motion around joints (recall the moment when you not only managed to touch your toes but also wrap your fingers around the soles of your feet when your Yoga teacher led you through the Pashchimottanasana, the seated forward bend?)

Fitness is much more than just about carrying excess body fat.

Now, two important things to remember where exercise is concerned:

  • No single type of exercise can lead to improvements in all four components of fitness. Hence, depending solely on the ‘30-minute walk everyday’ or ‘Yoga three times a week’ or even ‘Crossfit five times a week’ cannot help you improve on all four counts simultaneously.
  • Having said that, however, any form of exercise is better than no exercise at all, since it will positively affect at least one component of your fitness.

So, which exercise should you do and why? I’ll get to that in a bit.

PC: Height And Weight Tips