Exercise is an integral part of maximum fat loss. Regular exercise not only makes fat burning a breeze when combined with healthy eating, but also lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and a myriad of other diseases. A well-designed exercise program also increases energy levels while reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise also enhances joint stability and prevents, and even reverses, the bone loss seen in aging. In the general sense, proper health cannot be achieved without including some form of exercise.

Although I encourage everyone to be as physically active as possible in every way with daily activities and recreational play, I always encourage a more structured approach. Thus never confuse a simple activity with true exercise that activates the metabolism for fat burning. I know it can be a bit confusing, but consider a few of examples. When a 60 year-old woman who has worked all day in her garden, despite her exhaustion at the end of the day, what she did cannot be considered exercise. A 50 year-old man who walks a few blocks each night after dinner is not exercising. Similarly, a 30 year old woman who spends all day shopping at the mall until her feet ache might be tired at the end of the day, but she didn’t exercise. The missing component here that defines exercise is the need to increase the intensity of the activity to the point that you sweat and significantly increase your heart rate. So, while walking around all day at the mall may be tiring by days end, that is still not considered exercise, and thus has little to no health benefit.

Unlike exhaustive activity, true exercise is a focused, proactive challenging of the body’s limits. This structured form of exercise is more intense than simple activity. But again, exercise is also relative. For example, when my 97 year-old patient is able to make her way around the block without the use of her walker, it is an accomplishment in which she must exert tremendous effort. When she does this, I consider it exercise. But, by the same token, I certainly wouldn’t consider it exercise if a healthy 45 year-old man performed the same walk around the block. Unfortunately, society has become so lazy that too many 45-year old men have become convinced that the simple activity of walking the dog around the block after stuffing themselves over dinner is some kind of exercise.

So true, structured exercise is relative to the individual but for each person means exerting oneself with a focused intensity and over a specific amount of time. By creating structured M.A.D. sessions of exercise you will not have to rely on a potential misperception as to whether or not you are exercising or just being active.

Having an active lifestyle is not enough. You must exercise.

Can-Do Cardio

Obviously, the first thing you need to do before doing cardio or engaging in any exercise program is to consult with your personal physician and make sure you have a clean bill of health and are ready for the kind of exercise you want to do. This being the case, exercise for fat burning should be done at least 3 days per week for one hour. Remember that your sessions should involve challenging physical exertion. You want to get your heart rate up and you want to sweat. When you are doing those things, you are getting the most amount of fat burning.

Sweating and getting your heart rate up with cardio is not just beneficial for fat burning, but it also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, while decreasing blood pressure and bad cholesterol. Cardio has even been shown to help in everything from improving your immune status to reducing symptoms of PMS (great news for both men and women!).

Fat burning cardio should be done on bikes, treadmills, and cross-trainers, as well as running hills and stairs. As a general rule I tend to stay away from traditional flat surface running because the injury potential is so dramatically high. Also, most people who think they are running are actually just walking fast and, at best, jogging or trotting at a relatively unchallenging pace. What ends up happening is that so-called “joggers” spend far too much time in this mind and body-numbing experience. They sometimes do this slow, sweaty trot for hours each day, but with little relative benefit.

In sharp contrast, my approach to fat burning cardio is quite a bit shorter in duration, yet exponentially more beneficial. In my experience, fighting calorie intake with straight calorie burning is a losing battle. Instead I like to do cardio in a much more economical way that dramatically stimulates the metabolism to new heights. My style of cardiovascular and metabolic stimulation is achieved by challenging your age-predicted heart rate maximum by at least 60%. Age predicted heart rate max can be calculated with the following formula:

(208) – (0.7)(age)

In order for each cardio training bout to be short, economical, yet intense and effective, you need to calculate a proper heart rate range for yourself. This range can be easily estimated using the following Karvonen’s Formulas:

(220-Age) – (Resting Heart Rate) x (0.6) + Resting Heart Rate = lower limit
(220-Age) – (Resting Heart Rate) x (0.8) + Resting Heart Rate = upper limit

These two numbers will give you the lower limit of your target heart rate range (60%) and the upper limit of your target heart rate range (80%). Your target heart range should fall between these two numbers during the entire duration of your cardio session. But be patient with yourself because getting to this level of intensity can be extremely difficult at first. Most need to work their way up to this level of intensity. Once comfortably in this range, try to stay at the upper limit.

Five minutes of such intense work is a terrific start. Try and work up to twenty minutes, increasing the level of difficulty as you adapt. For example, use a steeper incline on the treadmill, a greater resistance on the bike, or a faster pace on the StepMill®. Just be sure to kick up the intensity as much as possible before you consider simply adding more time. Remember that the trap of simply doing cardio for a longer duration at a lower intensity and thinking that this will burn more fat is the trap most fools fall into. Don’t be one of them.