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Body fat percentage: more important than weight?

People come in many different shapes and sizes, with varying builds and fitness levels, so weight often is deceiving. In the 1990s, more emphasis is being put on the percentage of muscle and fat, and less on total body weight.

Measuring body fat, rather than weight, is the best indicator that a person needs to trim down. Numerous studies have shown that elite athletes - including gymnasts, cross-country skiers, swimmers, and distance runners - have significantly lower percentage of body fat than the rest of the population.

What is the relationship between low body fat and world-class ability? "Excess body fat is |dead weight," explains Steven Heymsfield, associate professor of medicine, Columbia University. "It's harder to perform when you are, in effect, carrying around a sack of potatoes."

According to the American Heart Association, accumulating fat starts earlier in life than once thought - at 25 for the average American. Some body fat, of course, is essential. Fat tissue protects the body against injury, insulates against cold, and supplies fuel to meet energy needs. However, too much fat puts individuals at risk for a host of ailments, including diabetes, gallstones, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Aerobics improve the body's ability to consume and use oxygen, which is vital for burning fuel, such as fat. "After 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, your body will start to burn less glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and more fat," points out J.P. Flatt, professor of biochemistry, University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Each person has a different metabolic rate.that is determined genetically. Whether it is fast or slow, there's a way to stoke the fat-burning furnace and raise one's metabolism. Exercise speeds up metabolism for hours so that calories continue to burn at a higher rate. Exercising before eating will increase metabolism to an above-normal rate. Thus, people benefit not only from the calories burned during exercise, but from additional calories burned after the workout. Exercise also depresses appetite by stabilizing insulin and blood sugar, causes one to feel fuller by stimulating the production of certain hormones that raise the blood-fat level, and makes reducing fat easier because it increases muscle mass.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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