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Sports Medicine – Body Weight Reduction and Exercises

Generally, an overweight individual can reduce his/her weight by:

  • a) reduction of energy intake, i.e. limiting food intake
  • b) higher calorific output through exercise.

It needs to be emphasized that increased energy output through exercise and consequent loss of adipose tissue can result in certain drawbacks:

  1. The objective of exercise with obese people is reduction of body fat. However, it is well-known that body fat – the source of energy for muscles – is used to maximum extent, i.e. „melted“ during exercise, after about 40 minutes of exercise of quite low intensity. This means that during exercise of less than 40 minutes the fat „melts“ to a limited extent, with the same applying to highly vigorous exercise. During exercise of less than 40 minutes or vigorous exercise the organism mainly uses animal starch (i.e. glycogen) as „fuel“ which is deposited inside muscle cells, and does not use („burn“) fat deposits. So, although short and vigorous exercise conributes to health – muscle strengthening, correct body-control, increased number of muscle capillaries, improved heart and respiratory system action – it does not reduce the quantity of body fat. Reduction of body fat is achieved only through long-term exercise of quite low intensity corresponding to the exactly determined cardial rate. Determination of this rate is the subject of specialized examinations. Even quite small volumes of exercise are of big importance. Some years ago, the well-known Swedish physiologist Astrand published a study proving that even common walking of 2 km a day increases daily consumption by „only“ 100 kcal (4.18 kJ) which means 365,000 kcal (25 MJ) in 10 years, i.e. burning about 60 kg of adipose tissue.
  2. Suitable physical exercises aimed at body fat reduction are perseverance activities which can be withstood by an overweight individual and which can be practised for over 40 minutes. Such activities includes the following:
    • a) Vigorous walking – the principal advantage of walking is that it can be performed virtually anywhere, and the principal disadvantage is increased load on lower-limb joints. Walking intensity should be sufficient to provide „melting“ of body fat and should be accompanied by compensatory exercise.
    • b) Cycling – the advantage is definitely its lower dullness than that of walking and the lower load on lower-limb joints. The disadvantage is higher risk of injury (riding technique and traffic), necessary compensatory exercise and frequent problems with maintaining ideal constant „lipolytic“ (i.e. „fat melting“) pulse rate or its fluctuations during cycling. Similar conditions for load intensity and compensatory exercise apply to stationary bikes with which it is easier to maintain constant optimum lipolytic pulse rate. Again, the disadvantage of this activity is its dullness.
    • c) Swimming – the main advantage is its minimal load on joints as well as the attractiveness of the activity and the main disadvantage might be a certain risk of limited reduction of fat. The body utilizes fat as protection especially when swimming in cold water.
    • d) Cross-country skiing – the main advantages compared to walking are lower load on lower-limb joints and the attractive environment. The main disadvantage is a limited possibility of undertaking the activity due to seasons and the technical demands for the discipline (often the chances to master the technique of cross-country skiing in adulthood are rather limited) as well as higher risk of injuries, especially on non-maintained tracks.
    • e) Nordic walking – at the current level of knowledge this type of activity seems to be ideal for obese people, combining advantages of walking using the support of poles reducing load on lower-limb joints and increasing load in the zone where fat is used as the source of energy. We can expect that Nordic walking will become the main method of increasing energy consumption in the case of overweight patients. Because of the exceptional importance of Nordic walking to weight reduction a separate chapter (the last one) deals with this activity.
  3. Following Astrand’s study we can assume that 1 kg of adipose issue is able to accumulate energy to cover physical activities of about 25,000 kJ, i.e. 6,100 kcal. If we measure energy consumption of various activities the energy accumulated in 1 kg of adipose tissue corresponds to about:
    • 30 hours of walking at 4 km/hr, i.e. walking distance of about 100-120 km,
    • 21 hours of walking at 6 km/hr, i.e. walking distance of about 100-126 km,
    • 16 hours of Nordic walking at 6 km/hr, i.e. Nordic walking distance of about 80-100 km.

(„Inaccurate“ distance estimations stem from variable energy consumption at different body weight).

Some readers might become depressed after looking at the above data but we can deduce the generally-known ineffectuality of slimming by mere physical activities (without limiting food intake) – weight reduction absolutely requires lower food intake.

For instance, we can deduce that 1 extra roll or half a liter of light beer mean over 1 hour of walking at 4 km/hr, or that 1 km walking reduces weight by approx. 10g.

  1. A frequent factor influencing the sports activities of overweight patients is the sense of shame („how can I, with my kilos, do sports among other people – it will be embarrassing“). The patient simply fears mockery – some client motivation, sometimes even supporting psychotherapy, is necessary.