Obesity in America has now reached epidemic proportions according to medical professionals. Researchers at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia report that 56% of Americans are overweight. This trend in obesity rates has been steadily increasing over the last two decades and is predicted to continue. Moreover, studies have also noted a rise in other health related complications due to increased weight gain. For example, type 2 diabetes, a major consequence of obesity, also has increased rapidly over the last 10 years and has become a major health issue. Obesity is also a major contributor to heart disease, arthritis, and some types of cancer.
Obesity is not measured by a person’s overall weight. Instead, obesity is calculated as a proportion of body fat to overall body weight. Most health care professionals agree that men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent body fat are obese. This means that you can be as little as 15 pounds over weight and still have an obesity problem, if your percentage of body fat exceeds established threshold levels.
If you are the average middle-aged person, your problem is not excess weight so much as it is excess body fat coupled with a lack of muscle. Therefore, while losing weight is a good thing, merely losing weight is the wrong goal. Fat loss should be combined with muscular gain.
Muscle, as it turns out, is metabolically active, meaning that it actually expends energy, or calories, just to sustain itself. Body fat, on the other hand, is metabolically inactive, so that no calories are used to sustain it. This difference in muscle-fat energy requirements will have a major effect on your base daily caloric expenditure or basal metabolic rate.
Basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the absolute minimum calorie requirement that is needed to sustain normal, basic, body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and even sleeping. The BMR for any individual is a product of their age, gender, weight, and most importantly, body composition. Because muscle is metabolically active, a person with a larger percentage of muscle, relative to overall body weight, will burn more calories daily than a person of equal weight, but with more fat.
Here’s an example. Assume you’re a woman weighing 120 pounds, with a lean body mass of 80%, or 96 pounds. Your BMR will be 1312 calories per day. Now, if you simply lose body fat without increasing muscle mass, your BMR would remain virtually the same. But, if you lose fat and at the same time increase muscle mass, you could actually remain at the same weight, but your lean body weight might increase to say 100 pounds. In this case, your BMR would actually increase to 1353 calories per day. You’d be burning more calories by virtue of having more muscle.
Building muscle with a strength training program is an excellent way to balance the ratio of muscle to fat and lose unwanted weight. Getting stronger, or building muscle, only happens when the muscle is called on to operate beyond its normal intensity, referred to as overload. To plan a strength training program that will safely take you into overload and thus increase muscle mass, consult a fitness professional who can work with you to establish your exercise programming and fitness goals. As with any new exercise routine, you should always check with your doctor before beginning.