By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
Beginning in January, we provided a series of blogs and videos to show you some simple ways to strengthen specific muscle groups as you strive to increase your overall physical fitness. The sole purpose of this series was to help you become aware of important muscles you use every day and appreciate their role in allowing you to stay strong and independent, as well as how to maintain them for a lifetime.
As I noted in the very first blog, any new exercise regimen like this always needs to be supported by a holistic program that includes healthy nutrition and effective stress management. No one can ever expect to achieve their healthiest, most fit body by executing a few exercises every week. This is a team effort on the part of your mind, nutrition, and physical activity.
This brings up another issue. Most people would love to drop weight in one or more particular body regions. Heck, wouldn’t we all! From bouncing belly to thunder thighs, men and women are constantly seeking ways to “spot reduce”. Well, there’s no such thing. Here are some facts to keep in mind on your journey to a healthier, fitter body.
Muscle and fat are two different tissues. Exercise will strengthen and even increase the size of muscles. However, these muscles do not have any direct control over the fat around them. If you start to exercise on a routine basis, combining both cardio and strength training, you’ll be decreasing the amount of fat throughout your body. Some areas may drop fat first. That’s because where you store fat is highly influenced by your GAGA— gender, age, genetics, anything else.
1) Gender and Age: Look at your body shape and where your prime fat depots are located. If you’re a woman, this is highly associated with a pear or hourglass figure, where your fat is primarily deposited in your chest, hip, thigh and buttock regions. Once you’re perimenopausal, typically as you pass through your 40’s, due to the combination of hormonal fluctuations and lifestyle habits, women notice that fat is now localizing in the abdominal area, resulting in a more apple-shape appearance. Men, on the other hand, were born with more fat cells in the belly area and more active fat storage enzymes in this region. Therefore, all of their lives they are more prone to gain and shed fat in this region. Once men reach 40, their male hormone testosterone begins to decline, making it even easier to pack on the girth-expanding pounds.
Suggestion: It’s very important to consider your gender and age as you create goals and expectations on your fitness journey. Women, most men at any age will most probably drop more weight more rapidly due to their increased muscle mass and the higher circulating levels of male hormones. Everyone needs to take their patience pill and shed any excess fat pounds by gradually incorporating healthy nutrition and consistent physical activity.
2) Genetics: Take a moment and look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Regardless of your age, just observe what your body shape looks like. Then, grab a photo album and look at pics of yourself over the years. Now look at other members of your family. Note any similarities. If many women in your family had a larger behind or thighs, and you look like them, then you know that’s going to be a place on your body that will likely be more of a challenge for fat reduction. It’s usually not possible to actually shape change. That is, if you’re a pear, you’ll become a leaner, fitter pear. As you pass into your 40’s, you may accumulate more fat around your belly, but relatively speaking, you’re still likely to keep more fat on your bottom half.
Suggestion: Take a reality check. Look at your family members and honor your genetics. Happily this genetic effect is very positive as well. You may have inherited some great muscularity, so put that to good use to rein in your body fat.
3) Anything Else: From pregnancy to medical conditions in which weight was gained and/or shed, the body will make shape-related adjustments. Many women note the “jelly-belly” related to pregnancy, the magnitude of which depends upon how much weight was gained, the number of pregnancies, and the genetics of skin elasticity. Yo-Yo dieting with significant swings in weight shed and regained will influence body shape. As well, when people drop large amounts of weight through any intervention, there are changes in body shape due to the resultant excess skin and primary fat deposits during weight gain.
Suggestion: Women planning to become pregnant should optimally be fit and keep their weight increase to 25 pounds, unless there are multiple fetuses (check with your obstetrician). Any shedding of pounds, and especially people shedding at least 50 pounds of weight or more, really need to strive to exercise consistently for a more fit body composition and optimal re-deposition of muscle and fat.
Have some fun reviewing the video-blogs from our six-week campaign. As you do so, please remember that it is imperative that you combine any exercise with healthy nutrition. I recommend you log onto WebMD’s Food and Fitness Planner and incorporate the basics of optimal nutritional quality, quantity, and frequency. You cannot drop excess weight and get fit if you eat well and then don’t exercise, or exercise and don’t pay attention to what, how and when you’re eating. You need both. That’s the essence of the energy balance equation. This is a familiar theme in most of my blogs. And, like a broken record, I’ll keep messaging this forever. Why? Because it’s that important. Good luck!