My mum used to complain that she couldn't lose weight. A size 18 and a couple of stone heavier than ideal, she tried in vain for years to shed the extra. Every week she headed to the gym, where she pounded the treadmill like a paratrooper, often three times a week. Most days she took the dog for a brisk, hour-long walk. She didn't eat unhealthily – the rest of the family ate exactly the same meals, and did a fraction of the exercise she did. She ought to have been the slimmest of the bunch: that she remained overweight was a frustration to her, and a mystery to all of us.
‘Walking is man’s best medicine,’ said Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, although he was probably talking more from gut instinct than medical research. These days, there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that regular walking helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure, raised levels of cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
An Essex University research team has shown that ‘green exercise’ – walking in a natural environment – markedly reduces stress levels, and enhances mood and self-esteem. So take the chance to reconnect with nature whenever you can. When you head for your local park, woodland, river or beach, keep your senses alert and tune in to what’s around you. The sky, for example. The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney tells you the difference between cirrocumulus (rippling, mackerel skies) and nimbostratus (rain on the way), or Will Cohu’s Out Of The Woods will help you distinguish ash trees from oaks and maples. You can even learn to find your own food.
Why: Not hitting your goals? Need to exercise to lose weight fast before a wedding? The clean and press is your best friend. It works your entire body, it’s intense and – here’s the best bit –it optimise your hormones to detonate body fat. It’ll also push your lactic acid levels through the roof, reducing your oestrogen and better regulate your insulin.
The bad news Perhaps offering one reason for a multi-billion-pound weight-loss industry aimed almost exclusively at women, research has confirmed that it is more difficult for women to shed the pounds than men, because women's bodies are simply more efficient at storing fat. In one of Braun's experiments, in which overweight men and women were monitored while walking on treadmills, the women's blood levels of insulin decreased while appetite hormones increased; the men's, meanwhile, displayed no such change. "Across the evidence base, it seems that it's tougher for women to lose weight than men," affirms Ken Fox, professor of exercise and health sciences at Bristol University.
The best way to lose weight is to improve your diet and exercise more at the same time. If you’re overweight and want to shift some excess pounds, it's easy to fall into the trap of extreme dieting or exercise to lose weight. But either will be hard to stick to and can be bad for your health. With an extreme diet, you might not get the nutrients your body needs to function and with extreme exercise, you can get injured. What's important is to set yourself some realistic, achievable targets.
Women are quickly taking over the weight room, and you should get in on the action, too. Why? Strength training can help you build lean muscle mass and rev up your metabolism, which starts to slow down once you hit your 30s. Maintaining muscle alone burns at least 30 calories per pound. But there are more reasons to hit the squat rack than just getting swole. Resistance training also helps prevent osteoporosis. According to Wolff’s law, bone grows in response to the forces that are placed upon it. So if you lift heavier, your bone grows stronger as a response. Deadlifts, anyone?
Over the course of his career, Mayer's pioneering studies – on rats, babies and schoolgirls – demonstrated that the less active someone was, the more likely they were to be fat. Mayer himself, the son of two eminent physiologists, and a Second World War hero to boot, became one of the world's leading figures in nutrition and most influential voices in the sphere of public health. As an advisor to the White House and to the World Health Organisation, he drew correlations between exercise and fitness that triggered a revolution in thinking on the subject in the 60s and 70s. "Getting fit" became synonymous not just with healthier living, but with a leaner, meaner body, and the ground was laid for a burgeoning gym industry.
If you haven’t been active for a while, you may find walking is an easy way to get started. But it will also be important to keep your motivation. Begin slowly and gradually increase how much walking you do. You might find it helps to set yourself goals. There are lots of apps that can count your steps, or you could use a pedometer, so your goals can be specific and measurable.
A study conducted with 17,000 Harvard graduates showed that students who walked for at least 30 minutes every day lived longer than those who were sedentary (17). Walking may or may not activate the telomerase enzyme, which is responsible for maintaining DNA integrity, an important factor in aging, but it helps prevent many age-related problems (18).
Sure, you can lose weight quickly. There are plenty of fad diets that work to shed pounds rapidly -- while leaving you feeling hungry and deprived. But what good is losing weight only to regain it? To keep pounds off permanently, it's best to lose weight slowly. And many experts say you can do that without going on a "diet." Instead, the key is making simple tweaks to your lifestyle.
"The children did 64% more PE at the second school. But when they got home they did the reverse. Those who had had the activity during the day flopped and those who hadn't perked up, and if you added the in-school and out-of-school together you got the same. From which we concluded that physical activity is controlled by the brain, not by the environment – if you're given a big opportunity to exercise at one time of day you'll compensate at another."
You already know that a perfect diet doesn't exist, but many of us still can't resist the urge to kick ourselves when we indulge, eat too much, or get thrown off course from restrictive diets. The problem: This only makes it more difficult, stressful, and downright impossible to lose weight. So rather than beating yourself up for eating foods you think you shouldn't, let it go. Treating yourself to about 200 calories worth of deliciousness each day — something that feels indulgent to you — can help you stay on track for the long haul, so allow yourself to eat, breathe, and indulge. Food should be joyful, not agonizing!
There are many reasons why you might want to lose weight. If you have been significantly overweight or obese for a long time, then you might have concerns about what the extra weight could be doing to your health. Obesity increases your risk of many health problems, including diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gallbladder disease, and some types of cancer. If you have recently gained a bit of weight, then you might just want to lose some weight to fit back into your old jeans. Whatever your reason for wanting to lose weight, there are some important strategies that you should know about.