Why focus only on just weight loss?
One of the most interesting debates to emerge in the research surrounding exercise over the past few years is the concept of “fitness vs. fatness”. It is something that has received a lot of research and media attention, and basically looks at the changes in health that happen depending on whether it is better for someone to lose weight or improve their fitness as part of their goals for an exercise program. For a long time, weight loss has always been the primary goal given the significant associations between obesity and a number of chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, stroke). However research has also shown that Exercise Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness an those people who improved their fitness, even without losing weight also saw significant benefits in their health. So why is your fitness level also linked to your health in a similar manner to your weight? Well your fitness (more specifically your Cardiorespiratory Fitness as you might hear it termed) is considered a global measure of how well a number of systems within the body are working together. Your fitness level reflects a number of important processes:
– How well the heart can pump blood, and respond to increases in demand
– How well the lungs can exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide
– How well the blood vessels can transport oxygen to working muscles
– How efficiently the working muscles can absorb oxygen from the blood and use it to produce energy
Fitness is usually a consequence of when all of these components are working efficiently and coordinating well together (i.e. there are no weak links). When you consider the broad number of important systems that are linked with fitness levels (heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscle), it becomes clearer why this measure can be linked with significant improvements in health.
Both weight loss and improving fitness levels are two important outcomes that are linked to improvements in health that should be considered as part of any exercise program. There are numerous approaches to promoting weight loss, which fundamentally comes down to maximising the amount of energy expended while limiting energy intake and is why both exercise and dietary programs are the most effective combination to promote sustainable weight loss in the long-term (note: this is a gross oversimplification of a very complex issue, it is simply to illustrate the differences between the approach to weight loss compared to fitness). On the other hand, improving fitness levels require a slightly different approach.
Our bodies are designed to adapt to our environments, but to do so they need a stimulus that triggers them to begin adapting. When it comes to fitness, the trigger is usually exercise that is more challenging than what we are accustomed to (e.g. something that makes us huff and puff a little more than usual, or exercise that makes us work for a little longer than we are used to).
This difference between what the body is currently used to and has adapted to and the new stress is what triggers the body to say “hey, this is a bit harder than I’m used to, I guess I better make things more efficient so that I can tolerate this better”. These increases in stresses don’t have to be huge, small gradual increases (walking a little faster than usual or for 5 minutes longer) is enough to cause the body to start to improve the processes that have been outlined above. When this happens over the course of weeks of small increases, we start to notice the differences as an improvement in our fitness levels.
This is one of the approaches our team of Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists use at Functional Health for those who are interested in improving their fitness levels. We design programs using our specialised weights machines so that they provide not just a workout for the muscle groups to improve muscle strength, but also stresses the Cardiorespiratory system and acts as a trigger for adaptations to begin occurring to improve fitness. The most important part of this approach is that it can be monitored and individually targeted to your ability so that we can facilitate gradual increases in the exercise intensity that are appropriate to your fitness level.
Improving your fitness level doesn’t mean needing to do exercise that is so intense you feel like you are going to pass out or feel sick. Often this approach simply isn’t sustainable. Small regular increases in the intensity or duration of exercise that provide a challenge to your body are enough to trigger improvements in fitness. And since this is all based on your baseline ability, improving your fitness is a goal that everyone can work towards regardless of how fit or unfit you may be, which as outlined above can have a significant impact on your health.