Your Exercise Questions Answered

Emma White - Nutritionist | 01 Jun, 2017

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There is so much varying information out there about what is the recommended exercise levels for those trying to lose weight and maintain. What is your advice, and in particular, walking?

When it comes to exercise and how much we should be doing, it's very individual. But the key is just to do more than you have been and to continue to progress this.

If you're trying to maintain your weight, the official guidelines for health are:

'To stay healthy, adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do: at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).'

There is a really handy page on the NHS Choices website with more information click here

Losing weight
If your goal is to lose weight, then you should be aiming to do a bit more than this to help burn some extra calories – the more the better, within reason. But there's no perfect amount that will help you lose weight, it's just any activity you can do to burn more calories will help.

But when it comes to weight loss, diet is this biggest factor, so getting the right level of calories for weight loss is important. As they say, it takes 30 seconds to eat a cream cake, but about 20 minutes to run it off!

The most important thing is progression. You should stick with an exercise routine for about 6-8 weeks and then increase this in some way – either through increasing intensity or duration. This is because our bodies adapt and become more efficient, so activities that once burned 200 calories, would only burn 100 (as a simplified example!).

So in the case of walking, if you did say 3 hour long walks a week. After a period of time you would need to increase this to say 4 walks a week, or 3 1 and a half hour long walks. Or even include some hills and up the intensity. Walking can be a great way to burn calories, it's just important to progress it if you want it to help with weight loss.

Personally I believe strength training is important for everyone, and can have the biggest impact on weight loss in some ways. This is because strength exercises build lean muscle mass, and this tissue is metabolically active – meaning it burns calories even at rest. So the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism essentially.

Hope this helps!

What is considered moderate fitness levels? Is that just the normal 10000 steps included or should I be adding that in to my exercise levels? I've put moderate fitness as I walk a fair bit and am busy with 2 young children.

If you go to the Profile page and scroll down to the activity levels section, you will see an orange question mark. If you click on this it will give you a breakdown of what each level of activity is defined as.

Moderately active in your day to day life means being on your feet for much of the day, either standing or occasional slow paced walking. Typical jobs: shop assistant, teacher, chef/cook, bar worker, engineer.

Being moderately active in your leisure time, means doing light to moderate intensity exercise 3-4 times a week. E.g. going to the gym / swimming / cycling / horse riding / dance classes / playing golf. Daily dog walking (brisk pace, twice a day).

In terms of adding it to your diary, it really depends what you're used to doing. If you have been doing around 10,000 steps a day for a while, then it's fine to set your activity levels to moderate, but any activity you record as exercise should be above and beyond this. This is because our bodies adapt to be more efficient at doing activities we do regularly – so we have to do more to challenge them and keep burning more calories.

Hope this helps!

Eating exercise calories – I know this is the subject of a lot of debate, but on a psychological level, it's nice to ":earn": a treat, and if you've done a lot of exercise, surely you heal better and see other health benefits besides weight loss if you use some of the calories sensibly (e.g. protein after a hard session in the gym), I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...:)

This is an interesting point of discussion, as there are quite a few variables to consider! So it's not really a simple yes or no answer. I've outlined some of the factors below:

How many calories you're burning
If you do a lot of exercise – say 4 gym sessions a week and burn 500 calories or more each time, then eating some of these back is fine if you feel you need to. And as you say, eating a high protein/carbohydrate snack after an exercise session is a good way to aid recovery. It's best not to eat them all back however, as exercise calories can only ever be an estimate, so there is the risk of eating back more than you burned. So we'd say aim for half to be on the safe side.

It is important to eat some back if you do burn a lot of calories, to avoid a very low net intake. So say you are eating 1,400 calories per day, but doing vigorous exercise that burns 700 calories – your net intake is on 700 calories. This is very low, so in this case we would recommend eating back some calories.

What activity you're doing
The type of activity you're doing to burn calories is an important factor – if it's house work or shopping for example, we wouldn't recommend eating these calories back. This is because these are a part of everyday life and so our body has adapted to these, and probably doesn't burn off many extra calories in doing them. But if it's exercise such as swimming, cycling, power walking, a gym class or running for example, then eating some of the calories back is fine as it's likely you've really burned off a decent amount.

What your goal is
If your goal is to lose weight, then extra exercise and calorie burning will help to boost this. So we tend not to recommend eating back all of your exercise calories in this case. But as I mentioned above, it depends how many calories you're burning and what you're doing.

If you're maintaining your weight, then eating back the calories is OK to do – as long as you're not eating more than your body needs.

Your energy levels
If you feel low in energy when you exercise or afterwards, then your body is probably trying to tell you that you need to eat a bit more. It is important to listen to our body and how we feel, so if you feel you need a little more to eat one day – that's fine.

The biggest factor is your weight loss – if you're losing weight at a healthy 1-2lbs per week, then you're getting the balance right. But if you're losing faster than this, then it's advisable to eat a bit more each day.

Hope this helps!

I took up power lifting a few months ago and it has been very enjoyable. I do find however that I need to increase my protein a bit or else I get a bit of muscle stiffness. When I eat enough protein in order to stay under my calories I find that my fat levels are quite low. Is this something that I should attempt to address if I will be doing this long term? Thanks :)

If you are working your muscles regularly through power lifting, then increasing your protein is really important. Extra protein will help with muscle growth, but also to ensure muscle repair and renewal. I wouldn't recommend cutting fat intake to any lower than 20% of your total calories because you may risk deficiencies in important fat soluble vitamins and essential fats. We set you a target of 35% of your total calories, so it's fine if you fall a bit under this, but you should be aiming for at least 30grams per day. As you are cutting back on fat, then make sure that the fat you do eat is of good quality (e.g. oily fish, nuts, seeds, dairy).

Hope this helps!

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

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