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Is Exercise Enough?

There are millions of people around the world  starting the fourth week of their New Years resolution, with many having resolved to improve their physical health by adding in more exercise.  It is common knowledge that adding exercise or increasing physical activity on a daily basis has numerous physical and psychological benefits.  But is it enough just to exercise more often?

The other day I met a woman who said she has been working out most days for 30-45 minutes  since the new year began but hasn’t lost a pound.  She went on to say that she “doesn’t really over eat very much” so she couldn’t understand why she hasn’t seen the scale drop.  Since I just met her and she didn’t ask my opinion, I kept my burning question of “But exactly what DO you eat?” to myself.  While many of our weight issues can be traced back to not getting enough daily physical activity, more often our inability to lose weight has more to do with what kind of food or fuel we are putting in to our body then how much we are exercising.

There are a few pitfalls to increasing exercise.  One is that there is a false sense of “Since I am exercising, I can eat more of this or that,” so often portion sizes increase.  In addition we also think, “I’ve been so good working out all week I deserve this treat.”  Also, with increased exercise hunger, while initially suppressed, will come on with a vengeance and this is when running into a convenience store for something because “you are starving” can completely derail your day.

Here is an easy way to look at it:

Maintain Current Desired Weight

–Calories In = Calories Out

Gain Weight

–Calories in > Calories Out

Lose Weight

–Calories in < Calories Out


What determines the amount of calories needed each day?



•Body Size/Type

•Type and amount of daily physical activity

Everyone has a minimum daily energy requirement

The first thing to do is figure out what your “minimum daily energy requirement is” by calculating your Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR.  This is the approximate amount of calories your body would burn in a 24 period at rest, laying in a bed, not eating, etc.  It is the minimum requirement of what your body would need to maintain your current weight without physical activity.  (Resting Metabolic Rate Calculator) The number is only approximate because your individual body composition (muscle, fat and bone mass) is not taken into account but the number you get will give you a good idea of the base amount of calories your body uses each day.

To track your caloric intake try the My Pyramid site put together by the USDA http://www.mypyramid.gov/ There is quite a bit of good information here that will allow you to track your diet as well as plan what you will eat to ensure your nutritional needs are being met.

Once you determine what and how much you have been eating you can decide how you are going to go about making the changes to meet your goal.  First and foremost BE REALISTIC and remember that when dieting “slow and steady” really does “win the race.”

More information that will help you as you decide how you are going to go about losing weight.

How many calories in 1 pound of fat?

•3500 kilocalories(kcal) or “calories”

What is a safe amount of weight to lose per week?

•1-2 lbs/week

How many calories per day must be cut out or expended to lose 1 pound per week?

•3500/7=500kcal per day

What’s the easiest way to do this?

•250 calories from diet/250 calories from exercise

*Adding strength training 2-3 days a week for 20-30 minutes will also be beneficial.  After the age of 25, women especially, begin to lose muscle mass.

More muscle mass=More calories burned each day-NO PHYSICAL ACTIVITY REQUIRED!!

Next decide how much you are going to exercise.  Again, BE REALISTIC and conservative.  Sure you may WANT to exercise 7 days a week for 60 minutes a day with an additional amount of time appropriated for strength training but is it really going to happen?  Start out slowly, 2-3 days a week will do.  The more you begin to move your body more on a regular basis, the more your body will want to move.   The amount of physical activity will probably fluctuate daily so you will need to adjust the amount of calories based on your daily physical activity.    To find out the approximate amount of calories burned doing a variety of activities try this site:  Lighten up and Get Moving!

All the above will help you see where you are now and give you an idea of how to meet your goals but it isn’t definitive.  The kinds of food we eat to fuel our bodies play a huge role of how we maintain, lose, or gain weight.  Like the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, it is important to really ask yourself “What DO I eat?”  A book that scared and inspired me at the same time was “Skinny Bitch.”  A quick .entertaining,  also crass read that will give you an idea of what we do to ourselves when we eat certain foods and drinks.  Even if you don’t subscribe to everything in the book you will definitely have a few “ah, ha” moments and hopefully be more informed about the food you are consuming.

I am not a dietitian so I am not an expert when it comes to the best ways to lose weight.  However, I have had the good fortune of staying approximately the exact same weight, give or take 5 pounds, for over 20 years.  Now that I am in my early 40’s things are starting to shift, but overall I have stayed ahead of the curve by pretty much keeping “my calories in equaling my calories out.” Most recently I have  made a commitment to add more strength training on a daily basis knowing that while “muscle may weight more than fat” it can also “burn more calories than fat”  not to mention the effects strength training has on improving and maintaining bone density which helps to keep osteoporosis at bay.  And I do happen to subscribe to most of what is written in the book Skinny Bitch and have been a “vegetarian with mostly vegan tendencies” for over 2 years now.  I know vegetarianism/veganism isn’t for everyone, but give a try for a week or month.  I truly believe that there is something to it.

So while we may not have the perfect diet, or exercise the recommended amount every week,  it is something to shoot for and outfitting ourselves with more information when it comes to our health and well-being certainly can’t hurt.   In my mind a reasonable goal or New Year’s resolution is to make an effort everyday, in every minute of the day, to do what is best for you.    Moving your body more and providing it with good nutrition is only one part but is  a powerful one. Pounds will come and go, and our bodies will change with age, but  knowing that we are taking care of our body and doing what’s best for it will give us  more energy and confidence.

“I resolve to do my best in 2011″

That’s really all we can ever ask of ourselves.

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Mini-Study Part 2: “The Skate”

To complete  the “mini” study  that was conducted a few weeks earlier on some of the  benefits of sun salutation, efforts were turned toward skating.

Once again Dr. Sparks and Jamie Scofield of the Cleveland State University Human Performance lab hooked me up to the COSMED calimitry device to measure the caloric and other physiological changes while skating.  To mirror the skating portion of the Mobile Yoga  Workout, I began with a 5 minute on skate warm-up.  The warm-up consisted of some basic balance and technique drills, swizzles, moving squats, and long rhythmic strides while following the natural breath. For the next 10 minutes I cranked up my effort and power with each stroke (more knee bend), to a rhythmic 3 count per stride and continued to pay attention to the breath noticing how it changed with increased effort.  The last 5 minutes was used as a cool down period where I slowed down my stride and through in a few on skate balance postures.

During the 5 minute warm-up my heart rate went from 103 bpm at the end of the first minute to 134 bpm.  During the cardio phase my heart rate ranged from 142-176 bpm which was very  close to my recommended maximum heart rate of 177.  The last 5 minutes of the workout my heart rate got back down to 132 before taking off my skates and finishing with a few off skate stretches.

The calories burned for the entire 20 minute workout was approximately 160 kcals. For the 10 minute cardio portion of the workout  the average calories burned per minute was 9.4 kcal which is equivalent to what one might burn during a moderate run of the same duration. 

The relatively short duration of time spent performing the yoga and skating portion of this mini study shows that a lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time in regard to improving flexibility, balance, cardiovascular health.  With consistency, a  10 minute Sun Salutation practice followed by a short 20 minute skate could be a perfect way to begin to improve your overall health.

The purpose of our efforts of using the COSMED device during a Sun Salutation and skating session was to elicit  some baseline heart rate and calorie information in regard to both yoga and skating and all results were subject to error seeing that I was the only subject!

So why not add to the data collected and try a “mini” study of your own for a few weeks?  I look forward to reading your results!

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Sun Salutation-A “Mini” Study

Surya Namaskara ( Sun Salutation)

Prayer Pose

Two weeks ago Dr. Ken Sparks of the Cleveland State University (CSU) Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance department (HPERD) and head of the CSU Human Performance Lab hooked me up to the COSMED Mobile CPET, which is a calorimetry device.  Calorimetry is used to determine the heat released or absorbed in a chemical reaction.  A “calorimeter” is a device that measures  the heat of chemical reactions or physical changes and heat generated.  The COSMED device measured my heart rate, maximal oxygen consumption, caloric expenditure, any many, many other physiological processes too numerous to mention, while I performed 10 minutes of the full version of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation).

This was not an “official” study in anyway but just an opportunity for me to get an idea of the intensity and additional related effects of the Sun Salutation practice on the body. Every since I conducted a study on  Surya Namaskara 2 years ago, I had more questions that I wished I could have answered in regard to overall intensity of the practice and calories expended while doing it.  Using this device was my opportunity to get an idea of the effects of the practice on heart rate and energy expenditure(calories burned) among other physiological responses.   I am very fortunate to have access to resources in the Human Performance Lab at CSU as well as the expertise and guidance of an acclaimed exercise scientist.  One of perks of working part time in the HPERD department!

Heart Rate and Workout Intensity

The heart rate per minute results for the 10 minute period where I performed Sun Salutations showed that  my heart rate averaged approximately 135 beat per minute (bpm).  The Karvonen formula, which can be used to determine Target Heart Rate,   illustrated that 135 bpm was at the low end of my Target Heart Rate Zone.

Karvonen Formula

THR = ((− HRrest) × %Intensity) + HRrest


First I calculated my Maximum Heart Rate (MHR or HRmax )

220 bpm- 43 (my age)= 177 MHR

Then I calucated my Low Intensity Hear Rate Zone

177 MHR-54bpm (my Resting Heart Rate {RHR} or HRrest )=133bpm

133 X 65%( (Low Intensity Target Heart Rate {THR})= 86 bpm

Add Resting Heart Rate Back into the Equation

86 +54 (Resting Heart Rate)=140bpm Low End Heart Rate

Next I calculated my High Intensity Heart Rate Zone

177 MHR-54bpm (my Resting Heart Rate {RHR} or HRrest )=133bpm

133bpm X 85% (High Intensity THR)= 113 bpm

Added Resting Heart Rate Back into the Equation:
133bpm X 85% (High Intensity THR)= 113 bpm

113bpm+54bpm =167 bpm

My Target Heart Rate Zone is 140bpm-167bpm

Target Heart Rate Zone

The Target Heart Rate zone is the desired range to reach during aerobic exercise and sets the stage for the heart and lungs to receive maximum benefit from exercise efforts.  It is used during exercise to measure effort and to gauge the intensity of the workout.  According to my “Target Heart Rate Zone” calculated above, an average heart rate of 135 bpm  would be near the low end of the range and therefore be considered “low intensity,”

My  average heart rate during that period of time, 135 bpm  was  approximately equivalent to a brisk walk.  While I didn’t feel as though I ran a 6 minute mile, I was slightly winded at the end of the 10 minutes. The 135 bpm that I averaged is close to the low end of my target range and is  substantially more than my resting heart rate of 54 bpm.   For the last 3 minutes of the practice, however,  my heart rate continued to climb and averaged 143bpm.   It may not be in my “high intensity” range but the the practice was  moving me in that direction and will probably do the same for you!

How Many Calories Are Burned While Doing Yoga?

Students are always asking “How many calories will I burn doing yoga?” I was really most interested to have some hard numbers when it came to caloric expenditure. Since I have been singing the praises of Sun Salutation for over 2 years now, I figured “calories burned” always seems to get people’s attention so this could information could add more to my “Benefits of Sun Salutation” arsenal.

In the past I have told my students that it is difficult to say how many calories someone burns while practicing yoga because it depends on the persons body composition, their cardiovascular and muscular endurance level, the intensity of postures, and the length of the yoga practice.  All of which are difficult to measure (except for duration or practice) without doing a lot of calculations and tests before hand as well as having fancy measuring devices such as heart rate monitors, calorimetry devices , etc.

Although many of the physiological benefits of the yoga practice are often difficult to measure, my thought is that Sun Salutation (modified version for less experienced or full version for more experienced) is a rather rigorous.     If each pose is performed correctly with approximately one breath per posture, I believe the intensity can be somewhat similar person to person, routine regardless of one’s physical shape or yoga experience.   This is a theory with many holes, but I believe the series can be a good starting point for trying to measure calories burned per minute while practicing yoga.  Perhaps another “official” study is in order!

Calories Burned Per Minute

The results showed that I burned approximately 7 calories per minute which puts the workout in the “low intensity” range.  Of those 7 calories per minute, approximately 6.3 fat calories were burned.  The percentage of fat calories expended was 90% of all calories burned.  Sounds pretty good to me.  However, if the workout would be “high intensity” (Heart rate at 80-85% of maximum) the approximate calories burned would be 14 calories per minute with 8.4 calories per minute being fat calories.  The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that for a workout to be considered a fat burning workout then the workout should burn a minimum of 300 calories. While Sun Salutation, at least for the 10 minutes that I was being tested, doesn’t show to be high intensity,or did I burn 300 cal ( I burned about 70) it does have added benefits that say running or other cardiovasularly intense workouts don’t.

Added Benefits of Sun Salutation

As shown in the study I conducted for my graduate thesis, a beginner yoga practitioner practicing Sun Salutation for 10 minutes per day 4 times per week for 6 weeks showed a significant improvement in hamstring flexibility and upper body strength.  This is really something to consider.  How many forms of exercise put you in the fat burning range AND increase flexibility AND Upper body strength?


Again, looking to get more “bang for your buck” when it comes to exercise?  Surya Namaskara or Sun Saluation can be the answer.  It is a full body workout that has physiological benefits  far beyond what I have discussed in this and previous posts. Even if you don’t have access to a Human Performance Lab you can do some basic calculations on your own.  Taking your resting pulse at the carotid or radial artery. It is best to take it for one full minute upon waking.  Using your resting heart rate (RHR) you can then  calculate your own Target Heart Rate Zone, which can be done by using the formula above or a Karvonen calculator intensity of the workout and the approximate calories expended.

Wishing you much flexibility, strength, and many calories burned as you give this yoga practice a go.  (Videos):  Surya Namskara-Modified Version, Full Version of Surya Namaskara to be posted soon.)

Equestrian Pose

Eight Point Pose

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