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Weight Loss Briefs from the Harvard Experts

Most of us could stand to lose a few pounds.

Stated more bluntly, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.

Losing weight is simple, but not easy: Take in fewer food calories than you burn through physical activity. Cutting intake by 250 calories a day (eliminating one can of sugared soda or a 2-ounce bag of potato chips, for example), and burning an extra 250 calories a day (by walking an extra two miles, for instance), could help you shed a pound a week. Do that for a year, and you’ll lose more than 50 pounds. (To determine how many calories you’re eating and how many you can burn through specific activities, go to www.mypyramidtracker.gov.)

Exercise alone won’t help you lose weight nearly as much as eating less. That’s why portion control is a key to weight loss. One hint: Trick yourself into eating smaller portions by using smaller plates, bowls or utensils.

Exercising more and eating less will enhance your weight-loss success. Unfortunately, the 30 minutes of daily exercise that will improve your overall health isn’t enough to help you lose weight or maintain what you’ve lost. For weight loss, you need at least 60 minutes of vigorous daily activity. In terms of walking, that means five to six miles at a brisk pace. Briefer sessions of intense activity, such as tennis, can burn the same number of calories as longer bouts of less-vigorous activity. Harvard Heart Letter

No beef with beef if it’s lean

What should you eat if you don’t like poultry, fish or beans – the often cited heart-healthy sources of protein? One study showed that a diet including daily portions of lean beef can lower LDL cholesterol – as long as the rest of the menu includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Researchers gave 36 healthy men and women with elevated LDL cholesterol levels four different diets for five weeks each. All meals and snacks were prepared by the researcher and consumed either at the study center or at home.
One of the four diets was a so called “healthy American diet” that contained less than an ounce of beef a day but 12 percent of total calories from saturated fat. The other three had varying amounts of lean beef – 1 ounce, 4 ounces and 5.4 ounces daily – but were lower in saturated fat (6 percent of calories) and included more fiber and plant sources of protein. Total daily calories were the same for all diets.

Over the course of the study, LDL cholesterol levels fell further with the three beef diets than with the “American” diet. This isn’t altogether surprising, because the three meatier diets also contained more whole grains and fewer whole-fat dairy products than the American diet.

If you’re going to eat beef, look for the leanest cuts – top round, top loin, top sirloin or 95 percent lean ground beef. And stay away from processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts, a single daily serving of which has been associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Harvard Heart Letter

Vigorous exercise produces after-burn bonus

One of the obvious rewards of exercising hard is that you burn up calories while you’re doing it. That added calorie combustion helps you stay trim and may even help you lose weight, although you also have to watch the number of calories you put into your body.

Exercise scientists have found that vigorous exercise has an added bonus: an “afterburn” of revved-up metabolism – and the calorie-burning needed to supply it – that continues after the huffing and puffing are over. Some studies have indicated that this lasts 20 to 30 minutes and burns 30 or so calories, which is fine but really not all that impressive. But researchers in North Carolina have reported some results that are.

They recruited 10 young, healthy male volunteers and used a sophisticated metabolic chamber the size of a small bedroom to measure their oxygen consumption before, during and after exercise. Oxygen consumption is a reliable indicator of metabolic rate and calorie expenditure.

Not unexpectedly, the young men burned up an average of about 500 extra calories during 45 minutes of hard pedaling on a stationary bike.

What was surprising was that their metabolisms remained elevated for the next 14 hours, even though they were inactive and even as they slept during the last three and a half hours. The study subjects each burned an average of 190 extra calories during those 14 hours, which is 40 percent of the extra calories they burned up while cycling.

How fast did they have to pedal to achieve this afterburn? Fast enough to use 70 percent of their maximal oxygen uptake, which exercise scientists call VO2max. We asked one of the researchers, David Nieman, to put that in more concrete terms, and he told us most people would describe it as pedaling “hard or somewhat hard,” although the better shape you’re in, the easier it is to achieve and maintain 70 percent VO2max. So maybe like a spin class? Only if there aren’t any rest intervals, Nieman said, because to produce that long of an afterburn, it has to be a vigorous workout of “unrelenting intensity.”

Still, the take-home message here is that metabolism stays revved up after a hard workout, and that extra calories get burned as a result. Lately, exercise advice has emphasized the health benefits of moderate exercise, like brisk walking. But there’s a lot to be gained from pushing yourself a little bit harder if you can, especially when it comes to burning calories and controlling your weight. Harvard Health Letter

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