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Burning that fat

Maria Middlestead (The Press) -- If you were stranded on a desert island -- no, not with Tom Hanks -- and had very little to eat, your metabolic rate would gradually diminish (along with your interest in hunky companions).

Like a temperature gauge on a furnace, metabolism would be turned down to ensure you slowly burned the limited food you consumed. The cost would be mental and physical sluggishness but it would allow you to conserve the type of body tissue most crucial to survival: fat.

Rigorous dieting, with a marked reduction in food quantity, can mimic this process -- especially if you are over 30, female, and have experienced long-term illness, pregnancy, or yo-yo dieting.

However, specific behaviours can positively affect metabolism. Then fuel is used efficiently with minimal fat storage.

The body does not reset the level of its fuel- burning intensity, unless the need is consistent over time. Otherwise its natural urge is to maintain the status quo. You have to give it a regular message that a new way of operating is required.

The most effective mechanism for retraining metabolism is exercise. Playing several hours of full-on sport one day a week will use up kilojoules but will not reset the metabolic level. It takes frequent, at best daily, activity to inform the body that faster fuel expenditure and more lean muscle are required for this sustained degree of function. The duration could add up to less time per week than that one day of sport, but it is the regularity which gives it power.

Find forms of exercise which are practical to your life. Brisk walking is ideal. Join a club, go out on your lunch break, stride off in the morning or evening with a neighbour.

Many researchers consider that it is our sedentary lifestyle, more than our diet, which encourages weight gain. Studies have shown a strong, cumulative reward from brief bursts of exercise throughout the day. Walk or run upstairs and ignore the lift, hang out the laundry, wash the car, mow the lawn. Do not sit still for longer than an hour.

Stretching, bending, and moving improve both metabolism, mental alertness, sleep, and joints.

(c) 2001 The Press

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