I was digging post holes recently and got my heart rate up. And I started thinking about how many of those holiday calories – the ones that stuck – was I burning off. You have to think about something while digging post holes.
When we exercise to the point of increasing our heart rate and breathing heavy, we are getting an aerobic workout that does two very positive things. We build good HDL cholesterol to help keep our arteries clear and if we sustain the exertion past 20 – 30 minutes we are burning the fat that accumulates around our abdomen.
The issue is not our outward appearance but rather unhealthy outcomes resulting from visceral fat that is stored close to our internal organs. This type of fat – referred to as belly fat – is particularly unhealthy in that it produces a lot of nasty hormones that contribute to the condition known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms including hypertension, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides and reduced good HDL cholesterol, all associated with a large waist. This condition greatly increases our risk for heart disease, type II diabetes and more importantly it reduces our ability to live and do the things we enjoy later in life, such as digging post holes.
A healthy target for women is a waist less than 35 inches and for men less than 40 inches. To measure your waist circumference, place a tape measure on your bare abdomen at or just above your navel, pull the tape snug but don’t compress the skin and keep it parallel to the floor. Relax and don’t hold your breath. This measurement will be more than your slacks waist size.
So what can I do to reduce my visceral fat? Don’t fall for gimmicks. Contrary to the exciting TV ads, there is no “new” pill that will melt away belly fat. Sit ups and crunches will build abdominal muscles but not burn belly fat any more than other fat deposits. What makes the most difference is cutting back on calorie-dense foods and committing to daily activity. Calorie-dense foods include fried foods, fatty meats, whole dairy foods, gravies, rich sauces, sweets, sodas and alcoholic beverages.
The intensity of the activity is not as important as the duration. For example walking 1.7 miles/day will burn the same number of calories as jogging 1.7 miles/day. If you have a treadmill, it’s not how fast you are going but how long you stay on it. If you have been inactive, ask your doctor about how much and how long to exercise.
If you are digging post holes it’s not how soon you finish the job but that you continue working past 30 minutes. In my case I finished the leaf bin I was building in a couple of hours. All of that was not aerobic with increased heart rate but the walking, stretching, hammering, sawing and the joy of playing outside all contributed to a productive and healthy experience. Now I can get all those leaves raked up, put in the bin and they will be ready to use this spring in the garden. And in the process, I burned some holiday calories. What a great trade!
By Tim Scallon, M.S. R.D. L.D.
Director of the HC Polk Education Center and
Department of Clinical Nutrition at Memorial Health System of East Texas
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, weight loss and heart disease; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Mani Marini to demonstrate that healthy eating can taste great. The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org.