The common question on this is, by regular physical activity, do you mean exercise? .   The answer is both yes and no.   Definitely, regular physical activity includes deliberate exercises like running on a treadmill or working out at your gym.   However, it can also mean the physical exertion that comes with playing sports or dancing, and ordinary tasks like climbing stairs or scrubbing the floor.

There are two kinds of exercise that combine effectively in conquering obesity and helping you develops physical fitness.  

1.       Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise may be more familiar to you as aerobic exercise.   It involves movements performed at an intensity that increases your heart rate and which sustains that increased heart rate for a certain duration of time.   Examples of cardiovascular exercise are running, brisk walking, cycling and swimming.   As you maintain an increased intensity during these activities, you find yourself breathing more heavily.   It is this increased oxygen intake that burns your fat during exercise.  

To effectively burn fat however, aerobic exercise must be performed while maintaining your heart rate at the ‘fat-burning’ target zone.   You can find this zone by first determining your maximum heart rate. A popular formula to arrive at your maximum heart rate is age-predictive:  

220 (your age) = maximum beats/minute

The fat burning target zone is 60-80% of your maximum heart rate, which means you should be able to sustain aerobic exercise within this level for some time.

The duration of a good cardiovascular (CV) work-out is at least 20 minutes, though more fat-burning benefits can be derived from a 30-45 minute work-out.    

Please note that you need to gradually build-up your activity to the intensity required for fat-burning.   If you’re a beginner, break yourself in on the first few days by exercising at 50% of your maximum heart rate.   When you feel more comfortable, gradually increase your intensity until you reach the target zone of 60-80%.   Don’t overdo it though.   If you exercise too intensely, you reach the anaerobic zone (above 80% of max. heart rate), which means you’re not taking in enough oxygen to burn fat.   A good measure is to check if you can carry on a conversation while exercising at your intensity level.   If you’re huffing and puffing or catching your breath, then decrease the intensity so that you can maximize your oxygen intake.

Doing CV exercise at a frequency of three times a week will help you maintain your present fitness level.   If your goal is weight-loss and improved cardiovascular fitness, then CV exercise 4-5 times a week is more effective.

2.       Resistance or strength training.

The second component in exercising to conquer obesity is resistance or strength training.   The resistance is provided by weights which can take the form of machines, free weights like dumbbells, exercise bands or plain body weight as in doing push ups.

Strength training achieves three objectives in the fight against obesity.   First, when done using the proper weights, duration and frequency, resistance training improves your metabolism.   This means that it makes your body burn more calories efficiently.  Second, strength training does precisely what is says, it makes you stronger and contributes to your overall fitness level.   Third, training with weights improves your muscle tone, basically reshaping your body as you gradually burn fat away.

Different strength training exercises target the various muscle groups of your body.  Choose at least 1-2 exercises for each major muscle group.   Keep in mind that the proper execution of exercises is as important as the use of the weight itself.  

To determine the amount of weight you should be lifting for an exercise, find a weight that you can lift 12-15 times before experiencing muscle fatigue.   12-15 repetitions of the movement make up one set.   If your goal is to burn fat, do 2-3 sets of each exercise, resting for only one minute or less between sets.

To reap the benefits of developing muscle tone, a good resistance work-out should exercise each of the major muscle groups 2-3 times a week.   To increase your metabolism, each training session should last at least 20 minutes.  Since metabolism is increased only in the hours following the training session, a morning work-out makes you burn more calories during the day compared to an evening work-out a few hours before you sleep.    If your only time to train is in the afternoon or evening however, that’s still better than no exercise at all.

Remember that muscles need to rest for at least 48 hours in between work-outs to avoid strain and injury.   So you can have a full-body work-out every other day, if training three times a week.   If shorter training sessions fit better into your schedule, you can split your work-out between the upper body and lower body muscles, and alternate the muscle groups you train each day.

IMPORTANT:   Warm-up, stretch, cool down.

When doing any kind of exercise, whether cardiovascular or strength training, it is very important to go through proper warm-up, stretching and cool down.

Warm up at the beginning of each work-out by doing a milder version of your exercise for 5-10 minutes.   Walking or mild jogging in place will do.   Warming up gradually transitions your body between your resting heart rate and the increased intensity that exercise will bring on.   Your heart is a muscle, and like all other muscles, it needs to be prepared before you exert it.

Once warmed up, take time to stretch your muscles, to prepare them for the work that lies ahead.     Stretching a ‘cold’ muscle can result in injury so make sure you’ve done the warm-up first.

At the end of the work-out, take another 5-10 minutes to cool down.   You can do what you did in the warm up session, only this time taper the movements toward the end.   End with stretching your muscles again.   You’ll find this relaxing as your body transitions back into rest.   Stretching at the end also enables your muscles to maintain flexibility until your next work-out session.

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