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 Better Approaches To Weight Loss 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott

We just completed statistical analyses of eight years (33 sessions) of data from our Basic Exercise Program. Since 1996, we have conducted exercise classes two or three days a week, almost every hour of the day, in a separate fitness facility, for men and women from 15 to 85 years of age, in accordance with the 1995 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) training guidelines. During each 60-minute class period, the six participants perform 20 to 25 minutes of strength exercise (10 Nautilus machines), 20 to 25 minutes of endurance exercise (treadmill or recumbent cycle), and five minutes of stretching exercise all under the watchful eyes of two instructors.

The ACSM strength training guidelines call for one set of each strength exercise, performed with a moderate resistance that permits 8 to 12 controlled repetitions to the point of muscle fatigue for the major muscle groups. The ACSM endurance training recommendations call for a minimum of 20 minutes of continuous aerobic activity at about three-quarters effort (typically 70 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate), with 2 to 3 minutes of lower effort warm-up exercise and 2 to 3 minutes of lower effort cool-down exercise. The ACSM flexibility training guidelines call for static stretches of at least 20 seconds duration for the major muscle groups.

Our results have demonstrated that these basic exercise guidelines are highly effective for improving our participants’ body weight, body composition and blood pressure, as well as for enhancing a variety of fitness parameters (muscle strength, joint flexibility, balance, etc.) On average, after 10 weeks of the Basic Exercise Program, our class members add three pounds of lean (muscle) weight, lose 4.5 pounds of fat weight, reduce their systolic blood pressure by 4 mmHg and their diastolic blood pressure by 3 mmHg. These are very beneficial physiological adaptations to a short term program of relatively brief exercise sessions.

Of the almost 1800 study subjects, there were no significant response differences among the younger, middle-aged or older exercisers. That is, regardless of age, the class members made essentially equal improvements in body weight, body composition and blood pressure from participating in the Basic Exercise Program.

Personalized Weight Reduction Program
In addition to our Basic Exercise Program we offer a more personalized weight reduction program using essentially the same strength, endurance and flexibility exercises, but with one-on-one instruction during each training session. In a recent study, we divided the program participants into two groups. Group A met weekly with a nutrition counselor and followed a basic dietary plan. Group B also followed a basic dietary plan, but did so on their own without a nutrition counselor.

The Group A participants, who met weekly with a nutrition counselor, had a 100 percent program completion rate and a 100 percent diet adherence rate. The Group B participants, who did not meet with a nutrition counselor, had less than a 70 percent program completion rate and less than a 30 percent diet adherence rate.

Interestingly, Group A participants lost 8.5 pounds of fat and added 2.0 pounds of muscle for a 10.5-pound improvement in their body composition, whereas Group B participants lost 3.5 pounds of fat and added 1.5 pounds of muscle for a 5.0-pound improvement in their body composition.

These results revealed that the weight loss participants who interacted with a nutrition counselor (once a week) had a greater program completion rate (100% vs. 67%), a greater diet adherence rate (100% vs. 29%), and a greater improvement in body composition (10.5 lbs. vs. 5.0 lbs.). Apparently, people who want to lose fat are more likely to succeed if they meet with a nutrition counselor for encouragement, accountability, feedback and reinforcement.

Research is clear that the most effective means for losing fat (as well as for replacing muscle and recharging your metabolism) is the combination of a sound exercise program and a sensible diet plan. It is also evident that the exercise program may be more productive with a fitness instructor, and that the diet plan may be more successful with a nutrition counselor.

Computerized Weight Reduction Program
Our latest approach to weight loss incorporated the Basic Exercise Program, but with a Remote Trainer Option (Internet Communications) following the initial instructional period, and with a computerized coaching and recording system for entering exercise and nutritional information on a daily basis.

Using the HealtheTech™ system, participants completed a lifestyle survey, had their resting metabolic rate measured using the hand-held BodyGem® device, utilized a personalized weight loss plan created with BalanceLog® Pro software, and entered both the individual exercises they performed and the foods they ate with Balance Log® on their computer to determine their daily calorie balance. The reports generated by BalanceLog Pro were emailed from the remote trainer with specific topics and behavior change skills to individual participants on a weekly basis. Although some computer experience is helpful, and a weekly meeting with an exercise/nutrition counselor is advisable, the BalanceLog software provided educational and motivational information enabling the participants to make positive lifestyle changes with their nutrition and exercise plans. For example, a middle-aged medical doctor lost 17 pounds during the 12-week training period. That is, she reduced her bodyweight by 1.4 pounds per week, slightly more than her recommended weight loss rate of 1.0 pound per week. Her efforts resulted in almost a one-point-per-month reduction in percent body fat (approximately 31 percent fat to 28 percent fat), and a major improvement in resting blood pressure (128/92 mm Hg to 110/82 mm Hg).

Although her enthusiasm for the program led to a little faster weight loss than the computer feedback advised (resulting in a slight reduction in lean weight and resting metabolic rate), she can only be commended for such excellent improvements in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. We are convinced that modern computer technology can be a most valuable tool for sensible weight loss, both in the areas of activity adherence and dietary accountability. Combining a basic exercise program and a personalized nutrition plan based on measured resting metabolic rate with good instructors/counselors and precise computer monitoring seems to be a highly productive approach for improving bodyweight/body composition and physical fitness in previously overweight/sedentary individuals.

      
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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
 
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