Jewish World Review May 14, 2003 / 12 Iyar, 5763

BODYFIRE: Need to get a grip on those love handles?

By Eric Har | As summer nears, we tend to inspect our love handles -- those extra paddings of fat around our midsections that have been expanding since last fall. Unfortunately for us, these things seem to be the only body part that actually strengthens with age.

While we grudgingly accept love handles as a necessary evil in life, there's nothing "loving'' about them, and I believe that if we rename them -- to "hate handles,'' perhaps -- it will become more acceptable to channel our anger into killing them off.

Here's how you can shed the them from your frame, so that you look and feel your best as the warmer weather arrives.

Some physical activities burn more fat than others. For example, studies show that you will get the most fat-burning bang for your buck by running because it is a weight-bearing activity. On the other end of the physiological spectrum lies swimming, which is a fabulous activity, but one that's not as effective at burning fat.

But to shed your love handles, the trick is to exercise longer -- less frequently.

It's a physiological fact: the longer you work out, the more fat your body uses as fuel, and the increase is surprising: A one-hour run will metabolize roughly five times more body fat than a 30-minute run.

"Generally speaking, you begin burning about 1 gram of fat per minute after 20 minutes of continuous aerobic activity, and 2 to 3 grams of fat per minute after 40 minutes,'' says Susan M. Kleiner, a registered dietitian and author of "Power Eating.''

This explains why professional marathon runners are so lean; they train for long periods at each workout.

If shedding the fat is your goal, it's better to do two 90-minute cardiovascular workouts per week, than six 30-minute sessions. It's also important to monitor your heart rate and to exercise between 60 percent and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate during most aerobic workouts.

Next, work the weights. Strength-training builds lean muscle tissue, which improves the way you look by giving you more muscle definition. The added muscle also helps burn love handles -- even while you're at rest -- because 1 pound of muscle requires roughly 22 calories a day to "maintain'' itself. As you gain muscle, you become more of a fat-burning "furnace.'' That's one reason why it's harder to shed weight as we age: we lose that precious muscle mass.

However, mindlessly pumping iron will not produce optimal body-toning results. Lifting heavier weights fewer times will add muscle bulk to your frame because that breaks down a greater quantity of muscle tissue, and it tends to build back bigger. I would imagine that if fat loss is your goal, the last thing you want to do is expand in size.

Conversely, to build a leaner, more toned physique, you want to lift relatively lighter weights more times. For example: try two sets of 20 and 15 repetitions per major muscle group. This way, you break down less tissue, and the muscle tends to grow back longer and leaner.

Finally, on the nutrition side, the key is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat, while including more fresh vegetables and quality proteins, such as chicken, fish and eggs, into your diet.

More than 20 years ago, the late Dr. Robert Atkins wrote "Diet Revolution,'' claiming that dietary fat wasn't the enemy. Sugars and carbohydrates, which elevate insulin -- the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels -- are the real culprits in weight gain, he wrote. Research has largely confirmed his thesis that most people who consume too many carbohydrates are in a continual state of hyperinsulinism; their bodies have become so proficient at releasing insulin to help convert excess carbohydrates to fat that there's too much of the hormone circulating through their bodies. They tend to store more body fat.

Rapid weight loss, Atkins promised, would be achieved through an "induction diet,'' in which virtually all carbohydrates are banned from the table, forcing the body into a fat-burning metabolic state called ketosis.

While the Atkins diet has been largely denounced by medical authorities for its high-calorie, low-carbohydrate regimen, he was onto something. Millions of people have lost fat by adhering to his diet. Unfortunately, as with all radical approaches, people tend to regain the weight they lost, and then some.

To achieve enduring fat-loss results, balance your meals. Most people tend to over-consume carbohydrates because foods bagels, cereals and sweet pastries are more convenient to eat. If you consciously reduce some carbohydrates from your daily diet, you will lose weight without going to extremes.

Remember this fat-loss maxim: You'll achieve the best results by focusing first on moving your body and then on balancing your nutrition. Better exercise almost always inspires a better diet. And, as we all know, it rarely works the other way around.

Eric Harr is a triathlete and host of a nationally syndicated radio program that airs across America. His newest book is "Triathlon Training in Four Hours a Week.'' Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Distributed by TMS