Low-Intensity or High-Intensity Cardio for Fat Loss?

Who has not asked themselves this question? You are in luck. I’ve gone on this hunt for truth just for you.

The misconception about low-intensity cardio:

“It burns more fat than high-intensity training” or does it?

Fact:

It is true that a greater percentage of calories burned will come from fat if exercising at a low intensity.

BUT

because you’re exercising at a lower intensity, you will burn less total calories.

Less calories burned = less weight loss

How does it all work anyway?

Carbohydrates and fat are the body’s primary fuel source during activity. Carbohydrates are used first and in terms of carbohydrate sources, it will first be blood glucose that’s utilized for energy.

Next, stored carbohydrate (glycogen) will be turned into glucose and utilized. As exercise continues (for a long, long, long time), fat will become the primary fuel source.

It is also important to note that fat requires oxygen to be burned as fuel, which is where the misconception about low intensity aerobics burning more fat comes into play. The thought is that if you have more oxygen available (e.g., you’re not gasping for air because your intensity is so low), you’ll be able to burn more fat.

So what’s the problem with this theory?

The body does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the ‘fat burning zone’ or at lower intensities.

But, at higher intensities, you burn a greater number of overall calories, which is what you should be concerned with when trying to lose weight.

The chart below details the fat calories expended by a 130-pound woman during cardio exercise:

Intensity Level                                 Low Intensity                       High Intensity

Max Heart Rate (MHR)                          60-65%                                   80-85%

Total Calories in 30 min.                             146                                         206

Total Fat calories in 30 min.                        73                                           82

As you can see, the woman burns more total calories and more fat calories at a higher intensity.

So what am I trying to say? Low-intensity cardio is worthless? Absolutely not!

There is no “best” duration or frequency to do cardio, except the amount it takes you to get the results you want. That amount is not determined by opinion, committee, formula or even by scientific studies. What works for someone else, doesn’t have to work for you and vice versa. You are your own “scientific study.”

“Oh Great, you say. I’m on my own?” Not at all. Listen to your body. If it works, stick with it but if it doesn’t, you have to mix it up. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always gotten.

My recommendation:

Consider doing a low intensity/long session, a high intensity/short session and a few medium intensity/ medium length sessions. Keep your body guessing. This ensures that you work on endurance and that you work in multiple heart rate zones. The entire heart rate zone for fat burning is a HUGE debate. In another article, I’ll discuss the importance of Heart Rate. Stay tuned

Stay Happy & Healthy

– Dr. Maria

Resistance Training versus Cardio

I get a lot of questions about what is more important: resistance training or cardio? Is it better to do cardio before or after resistance training or on alternate days?

Let me say one thing right up front: Both cardio and resistance training should be part of your exercise routine because they are important for different reasons.

Female running athlete. Woman trail runner sprinting for success

Cardio is great for your heart and should be part of your regular exercise routine. The American Heart Association recommends doing cardio for at least 30 minutes on most days to maintain heart health. That said, I believe that too many people rely exclusively on cardio as their fitness and weight loss program.

Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit Workout

Resistance training, in my opinion, is the foundation of any exercise program and I will tell you why. Unlike cardio, resistance training not only burns calories while exercising but also after. Resistance training done for about 30 minutes causes metabolic rate to increase by 150 calories over the 12 hours post-exercise. But that’s not all…the real benefit comes from the added muscles that resistance training builds. For every pound of muscle you put on, you can burn 30-50 calories more per day.

It’s simple math: Resistance training burns up more calories per minute, helps maintain muscle mass, and continues to burn up calories at a higher rate post-exercise; it builds and stimulates muscle, which in turn builds and stimulates metabolism.

Now, to the timing question: there is research indicating that it’s more efficient to do cardio in the morning and more research showing better results in the evening. If that doesn’t confuse you, let me throw another tidbit of research your way: some newer research has shown added benefits of doing cardio after resistance training because the fat-burning benefits are at a high 15 minutes after resistance training. So what’s best?

Best is to actually do it, regardless of when.

The moral of the story

Use resistance training as your foundation for any fitness program and use cardio for support and to keep you heart healthy. Don’t worry about the timing….Just do it!

Stay happy and healthy

-Dr. Maria

Female Muscle – Misconceptions of Training and Nutrition

In the many years working as a fitness professional and health educator, I’ve encountered a wide array of myths and misconceptions about exercise and nutrition. Some of those seem to be more prevalent among women. Because these misconceptions can be the reason why you’re not achieving your fitness goals, I’m addressing some of the most common ones in this article.

More Cardio = More Fat Loss

Sadly, too many women still rely exclusively on long, boring, mindless cardio sessions to achieve their weight loss goals. Cardio is great for your heart and should most definitely be part of your regular exercise routine BUT:

  • More is not always better. Too much cardio without resistance training can actually cause you to lose calorie-burning muscle mass, which will decrease your overall metabolic rate and bring your weight loss efforts to a screeching halt.
  • 30 minutes of resistance training causes metabolic rate to increase by 150 calories over the 12 hours post-exercise. But that’s not all…the real benefit comes from the added muscles that resistance training builds. For every pound of muscle you add, you can burn 30-50 calories more per day.
    • Recommendation: Include resistance training to your workout routine and vary your cardio workouts by mixing days of longer low-intensity bouts (45-60 min) with shorter high-intensity interval bouts (20-30 min).

Fear of “getting to big” 

  • Women don’t want to be muscular; they want to be “toned” – hmmm? Sorry, but to be “toned” means to have muscle definition, which you really can’t achieve without being muscular.- Women fear too much muscle and think that weight lifting regularly, will make them look like men.
    • Reality check: Muscle does not grow overnight and if you’ve ever talked to anyone extremely muscular they’ll tell you just how hard it is. It takes a lot of dedication, time, training, and nutritional work to achieve a physique like that. There is no risk for the average fitness enthusiast to wake up one day and look like a professional bodybuilder. It’s really pretty simple: You work out until you like how you look and then you change your routine to maintain that muscle. Trust me, you’re safe from Hulkoniasm!

The importance of resistance training:Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit Workout

Besides making you look good, muscle has countless benefits you don’t readily see such as increased metabolism and strength, reduced risk of osteoporosis, as well as increased cognitive function. It also plays a crucial factor in slowing down sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Sarcopenia happens to all of us but we can significantly slow it down by including regular resistance training (at least 2 x week) into our routine.

Less Calories = More Weight Loss

Breakfast With Coffee, Orange Juice, Croissant, Egg, Vegetables

  • Cutting calories will make you lose weight BUT cutting too many calories will backfire
  • You’re body needs a certain amount of calories to function correctly. You may have heard of BMR but aren’t quite sure why it’s so important. BMR is the basal metabolic rate and is the absolute minimum amount of calories your body needs to perform all of the basic bodily functions such as breathing.
  • If you drop below your BMR, your body’s only concern is to survive. It is not concerned with building muscle and speeding up your metabolism.
  • Solution: Find out what your caloric need is and never drop below that number. This number depends on many factors and if you want an exact number you should contact a fitness professional. But as a rule of thumb, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that women do not drop their caloric intake below 1200 calories. If you compare that to the calories in the average juice diet, you know you’re in trouble.

I Don’t Need More Protein

  • The average woman eats insufficient amounts of dietary protein.
  • Protein is one of the major building blocks in muscle growth and also important in the proper functioning of your body (major structural component of our muscles, nervous system, brain, blood, skin and hair and is used by the body as a transport mechanism for vitamins, minerals, oxygen and fats).
  • Simple equation: If you don’t eat enough protein, don’t expect maximum results from your fitness and weight loss efforts.

Recommendation from the American Dietetic Association and ACSM:

  • General population 0.4 grams per pound of body weight
  • Endurance Athlete 0.5-0.6 grams per pound of body weight
  • Strength Training Athlete 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of body weight

This list of misconceptions is a very short list as I’ve only listed a few of the ones I hear the most. There are many more and if you have any questions about other myths, feel free to contact me.

Stay happy and healthy

 – Dr. Maria

References:

Waters, D.L., R.N. Baumgartner & P.J. Garry. 2000. “Sarcopenia: Current Perspectives.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 4(3):133-139.

Nagamatsu LS, Handy TC, Hsu C, Voss M, Liu-Ambrose T. Resistance Training Promotes Cognitive and Functional Brain Plasticity in Seniors With Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(8):666-668. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.379.

American College of Sports Medicine @ www.acsm.org

Sleep your way to a faster metabolism

So by now you know that regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet are essential to achieve your fitness and weight loss goals. But did you know that adequate amount of sleep can also affect your goals? Well it is…. sleep is probably the most overlooked component of health and fitness.

Sleep has a key role in supporting a wide array of the body’s hormones and metabolism. Chronic sleep depravation is often a factor in obesity. This is caused by several factors. First of all, people that sleep less tend to eat more because they have more time to eat and also tired individuals tend to eat more to combat exhaustion. Secondly, research indicates that sleep affects two important hormones that are related to appetite. Those hormones are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, which increases appetite, is higher with lack of sleep and leptin, which decreases hunger is lower with lack of sleep. That combination causes an individual to be more likely to overeat.

Research shows that everyone needs between six and nine hours of sleep every day. Several studies show that even a short period of sleep deprivation affects our memory, reaction time, and our ability to handle stress.

So do yourself a favor and sleep a little more!

Stay happy and healthy

– Dr. Maria

Probiotics & Menopause

Probiotic, Prebiotic, Synbiotic, Antibiotic, Psychobiotic?

If you think this is the title to a new Sci-Fi flick, you’re not alone. How confusing can things get? We hear about them in the news and on ads but does anyone ever really explain what they mean and why you should care to know? Well, I’m breaking it all down for you into small digestible bites. 

Crazy Chemist Woman With Chemical Glassware Flask IsolatedMenopause is marked by a plethora of symptoms ranging from hot flashes, weight gain, and memory loss, to depression and anxiety, just to name a few. With probiotics being the new hot topic on the supplement market with its adds promising infinite health benefits, the question arises if they can be beneficial with menopausal symptoms as well. Is there truth to any of those claims? What are probiotics? Would you benefit from consuming them? The last question is one you will have to answer for yourself but after reading this blog you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision:

Probiotics:

Probiotics come from the Greek word “pro bios” which means “for life”. The internationally endorsed definition of probiotics is “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The key word here is “live”.

Prebiotics:

Dietary substances that nurture a selected group of microorganisms living in the gut. Example: Polyphenols in chocolate act as prebiotics, enhancing beneficial bacteria that are already in the gut. They favor the growth of beneficial bacteria over that of harmful ones. (1)

Synbiotics:

Appropriate combinations of prebiotics and probiotics.

Antibiotics:

A substance that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms.

Psychobiotics:

Probiotics that have a specific health benefit in regards to mental health. This is not a scientific term but rather a term coined by a scientist that was researching the mental health benefits of probiotics. (2) It’s very catchy so I thought I’d share🙂

There are over 100 trillion bacteria, most of them in the intestines. These bacteria are our own intestinal medicine cabinet, which is capable of protecting us from damaging organisms.

They produce neurotransmitters that relay messages from the intestines to the brain via the vagus nerve, which causes the body to react in many different ways:

Gut bacteria work in the body through different modes of action supporting essential functions:

  • Digestion
  • Immunity
  • Metabolism
  • Mental Health
  • Nervous system

and helping with a variety of diseases. A few are mentioned below:

  • Lactose intolerance
  • Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease

A lot of the now marketed probiotics don’t have any benefits as they don’t make it passed the stomach acid. There are however, some that have great benefits:

Warning: No legal definition of probiotics currently exists, which allows companies to label their products “probiotic” even if they don’t meet the scientific definition of the term. No probiotic has of yet been approved for therapeutic purposes by the FDA. So when purchasing probiotic supplements, do your research. As with any other nutrient, always try to get as much in your daily fresh food (yogurt, kefir, fermented foods, sauerkraut, kimchi) instead of supplementing with pills or powders.

Due to their specific benefit, some of the strains of bacteria that may be beneficial for menopausal symptoms are listed below:

Combination of Lactobacillus helveticus & Bifidobacterium longum 

    • Reduced cortisol and inflammation
    • Cortisol is a big player in menopausal belly fat
    • Inflammation is a big player in musculoskeletal pain

Lactobacillus and Bifodobacterium

  • Secrete GABA, a neurotransmitter, who’s deficiency has been linked to depression. Polyphenols in dark chocolate act as prebiotics increasing both bacterial families

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

  • Reduces anxiety and depression by increasing GABA receptors in the brain

Bifidobacterium 

  • Alters levels of serotonin (similar to Prozac)

Lactobacillus reuteri 

  • Improves mood, appearance, and general health by increasing levels of the feel-good-hormone oxytocin

Lactobacillus acidophilus 

    • Influences canabinoid receptors, which are critical to regulating pain

B. infantis, L. reuteri 

    • Decrease inflammation

Active agents in yogurt 

    • Reduce anxiety and fear

Note: I was not able to find any specific studies that evaluated the benefit of probiotics for menopausal symptoms. This article, although based on information from peer-reviewed sources, is my own opinion on the possible benefits that probiotics can have on menopausal symptoms. It is intended to provide you with information but should not be taken as medical advice. Each situation is different. Contact your health care provider if you have other health conditions and are interested in exploring probiotics, as there may be interactions with medications that were not explored in this article.

Stay happy & healthy – Dr. Maria

References:

(1) Jain, D. & Chaudhary, H.S. (2014). Clinical significance of probiotics in human. International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology, Neurological Diseases, 4(1), 11-22.

(2) Davidson, J. (2014). The Psychobiotic Revolution. Psychology Today March/April, 40-41.

(3) Sanders, M.E. (2008). Probiotics: Definition, Sources, Selection, and Uses. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 46:S58-61.

Physical Activity and Menopause

Diverse Hands Holding The Word Exercise 

Menopause is bad.

Exercise is good. 

More exercise is the solution!

Is that it?

It’s not quite that simple, although most things you will read will tell you that any form of physical activity is helpful. There is a lot of truth to it. Physical activity at any age is beneficial and for women during mid-life exercising carries additional substantial health benefits. The menopausal transition is associated with many health risk factors such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, decreased bone mineral density, metabolic syndrome, and musculoskeletal symptoms. Exercise prescriptions for those health risks are the same as for non-menopausal women.

However, according to my research, not all forms of physical activity are of equal benefit in helping with menopause symptoms. In fact, some forms of exercise can exacerbate certain types of symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia.

I believe that it is important to pick the type of exercise depending on your symptoms rather than just exercise to exercise.

So how do you know which exercise is best for you? You start by reading this blog🙂 To help you find your way through the labyrinth of research that is out there, I’ve consolidated the findings of the last 20 years of research on this topic so you don’t have to.

First I want to highlight the overall benefits of exercising regardless of symptoms:

Increases:

  • Benefits brain function and functional capacity
  • Increases beta endorphins
  • Quality of Life
  • Strength and balance
  • Increased Bone Mineral Density
  • Increase in quality and length of sleep
  • Maintenance of healthy BMI
  • Self-perceived physical condition
  • Sport competence
  • Body image & physical self-worth

Decreases

  • Vasomotor Symptoms
  • Somatic & psychological symptoms
  • Depression (1 exercise session/week = 22% reduction)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Body Mass Index
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Cardiovascular Disease (50% reduction)
  • Overall mortality (20% reduction)

Exercise has many benefits but can also be stressful on the body

Too much exercise and/or intensity can:

    • Decrease sleep quality and length, which in turn is correlated with adverse physiological and psychological outcomes
    • Increase circulating cortisol levels, which can lead to increased abdominal fat (read last week’s post for more info on this)
    • Have negative effects on thermoregulation as it causes substantial increases in metabolic heat production and core temperature (during exercise, metabolic heat production can increase by ten to twenty-fold and recent studies suggest that hot flashes are triggered by small elevations in core body temperature)
  • Moderate intensity appears to have the most benefits
    • Highest menopause-specific quality of life
    • Lowest number of symptoms
    • Increased sleep, energy, confidence, mood

The following exercise guidelines are specific to helping you with menopause symptoms as well as increased quality of life throughout the menopausal transition. These recommendations do not apply to overall physical health.

Type of Exercise 

Female running athlete. Woman trail runner sprinting for successEndurance/aerobic training best for increased sleep

Woman Exercise With Kettle Bell - Crossfit WorkoutStrength training for body image, strength, body aches

young yoga female doing yogatic exericiseYoga for vasomotor (VMS) symptoms and overall menopause-specific quality of life (Hatha yoga for cognitive function (memory, concentration)

walking womanWalking at ~3-3.5 mph for anxiety and depression

Duration & Intensity

  • Moderate Intensity (60-70% Target HR)
  • Min. 3 x week (more days = decreased severity of symptoms)
  • Programs lasting at least 12 weeks

Special Considerations

  • Keep body core temperature at comfort level to avoid increases in VMS
  • Focus on activities that are enjoyable to you. Forcing yourself through workout regimens that you dislike can have negative effects on quality of life. I hear too many people say: “I think I should run more” and my question to them is “Why? Do you like running?”. “No, but it’s good for you”. Really? Is it? I don’t believe in doing things just because someone said they’re good, especially in regards to exercise. If you don’t like it, you won’t stick to it. It’s as simple as that. And when it comes to working out, consistency is the key. So find activities that you truly enjoy. Not only will you continue doing them and reap the physical and mental benefits but doing things you love will help you reduce stress and keep off that unwanted meno-pod (if you don’t know what a meno-pod is, you have to read last week’s post).

Have a comment or question? Leave me a note on the blog or tweet me @doctorluque

Stay happy and healthy

– Dr. Maria

All information is based on peer-reviewed research. I usually add a reference list of all the articles I read to put together an article but this one would be way too long. If you’re interested in finding out more about specific research articles used for this blog, contact me.

The Dreaded Menopod – Menopausal Belly Fat

The most common concern I hear from women in their 40’s and 50’s is increased belly fat. It isn’t weight gain that they are mostly upset about but where it’s deposited…right around the belly button.

Fat Woman Give Up Wearing Her Tight Jeans

Even women that don’t gain weight, see changes in where the fat is deposited. Is it an evil magic trick? I’ve heard it being called the belly bagel, spare tire, jelly center, and my favorite the menopod. Regardless of its name, it’s unwanted and you want to know how to get rid of it. Can you get rid of it or are you doomed to everlasting belly fat increases? Well, let’s break down why it happens and I’ll give you some ideas on what you can do.

Aging 

As we age, it is normal to see some weight gain. This is not something unique to women but women do see a larger increase in abdominal fat. In fact,  the prevalence of abdominal obesity in women in 2008 was 65.5% for women aged 40-59 years. So you’re not alone in this experience. Many different factors play a role in this. Changing hormone levels, loss in muscle mass, decreased activity level, and increased caloric intake, are just a few.

Estrogen

This is the queen bee of all hormones and sadly, this is the one that you’re being robbed off during menopause. Why is this such a big deal? Because she controls everything!! Estrogen plays a role in endocrine, immune, and neurologic systems. That’s why when it’s taken away, many women feel symptoms ranging from hot flashes to forgetfulness, depression and insomnia. One of the biggest connections of estrogen on increased belly fat is its relationship to cortisol. Ahhh, there it is, one of the biggest baddest buzz words in the health industry right now.

Hand with pen drawing the chemical formula of cortisol

If you believe what you read in headlines, this is the one to blame for everything. If it’s out of control, you lose, but to control it seems impossible. Is it? How is estrogen related to it and how does it play a role in belly fat?

Cortisol deserves an entire article by itself (which will come soon) so here is the condensed version on why cortisol is so important to your menopod.

Cortisol is:

  • “ Cortisol regulates energy by selecting the right type and amount of substrate (carbohydrate, fat or protein) that is needed by the body to meet the physiological demands that is placed upon it.” (5)
    • Energy production, exercising, eating, and under stress
    • This chronic stress can cause excess fat storage deep in the abdomen (visceral fat)
      • Deep abdominal fat has greater blood flow and four times more cortisol receptors. That’s why when there is too much cortisol in your body, it goes right to your belly.
    • It naturally is higher in the morning when you wake up and tapers down as the day goes on
    • When the body remains under constant stress, cortisol levels remain high regardless of time of day

Estrogen – Cortisol Connection 

Estrogen has anti-cortisol properties, which helps the body counteract some of the negative effects of cortisol. So as estrogen starts disappearing, so do its cortisol-fighting superpowers. This means that if your body was able to handle some of the excess day-to-day stress before, it may not be able to handle it quite as well now, which translates into excess belly fat.

What can you do?

  • Chill out!!
    • This is the most important thing you can do
    • Eliminate little, unimportant things that drive you crazy. This is unnecessary stress.
      • In my case, every time I feel like getting stressed out over some inconsiderate driver on the road, I say to myself “menopod alert, menopod alert…not worth it!!”. It helps🙂Female Hands Balancing Life And Stress 3D Words Conceptual Image
    • Stress will always be a part of life. Learning how to cope with it, is essential to controlling weight gain, belly fat, and overall health and well-being.

Diverse Hands Holding The Word Exercise

    • Resistance training
      • Don’t wait!
        • It is easier to maintain than to try and lose weight during menopause
        • Nobody knows exactly when menopause starts. It can be as early as mid-30’s to late 50’s.
        • Being active before midlife has advantages as it can contribute to entering menopause with lower BMI, higher bone density, lower fat mass, higher lean body mass.
      • Muscle mass decreases with age for every person, not just women. However, this decrease is accelerated in women as they transition through menopause.
    • Mindful exercises such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation
      • it can help with stress reduction as well as other psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression

Diet Decision

    • Eat healthy and adjust your caloric intake to your energy output
      • if you’re not working out as much as you did before, you can’t eat like you did

As we age, we are faced with many physical changes that affect us not only physically but also psychologically and emotionally. As women, those changes are exacerbated during menopause. Understanding these changes is a key factor in being able to overcome these challenges and transition happily through menopause. In regards to increased belly fat, you must remember that weight gain doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t start with menopause.

Don’t wait until you’re unhappy with your body…live healthy now!

Exercise, eat well, find a good balance between work and personal life, and enjoy the smaller things in life. Most importantly, don’t let inconsiderate drivers give you a menopod!🙂

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post when I will cover cortisol and other hormones in a bit more detail.

Stay happy & healthy

 – Dr. Maria

References:

  1. Davis, et al. (2012) Understanding weight gain at menopause. Climacteric 15;419-429. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2012.707385
  2. Sammel, et al (2003). Weight gain among women in the late reproductive years. Family Practice, 20: 401-409. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmg411
  3. Lovejoy, J. C., Champagne, C. M., De Jonge, L., Xie, H., & Smith, S. R. (2008). Increased visceral fat and decreased energy expenditure during the menopausal transition. International Journal of Obesity, 32(6), 949-58. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.25
  4. Epel, E. S. (1997). Can stress shape your body? stress and cortisol reactivity among women with central body fat distribution. (Order No. 9930948, Yale University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 96-96 p. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304388219?accountid=28844. (304388219).
  5. Maglione-Graves, C., Kravitz, L., Schneider, S. (no date). Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html