How to build muscles and burn fat effectively

August 15, 2015 08:00
Tabata Interval Training is getting popular among people who would like to build muscle. Meanwhile, a waist measurement can immediately tell whether one is suffering from central obesity. Photo: HKEJ

The problem of obesity is getting worse in Hong Kong.

According to a 2014 report from the Department of Health, nearly 40 percent of Hong Kong people aged between 18 and 64 fell into the category of overweight or obese. They have a body mass index (BMI) of 23 or above.

However, such an alarming figure doesn’t carry much weight to Hongkongers.

In another survey conducted by the Obesity Awareness Alliance, 30.8 percent of the male respondents and 19.4 percent of the females, whose BMI indicates they are overweight or obese, see their body figure as “proper”.

More half or 59 percent have no idea about their waist measurements until they buy new clothes.

Body weight is often the sole figure that people target when they try to lose weight. However, Lee Chun-kit, a specialist in family medicine, pointed out that it is not a reliable parameter since water is the main composition of the body, and it changes, especially after a person engages in a sport, goes to a sauna, or take a water pill.

Body weight is easily restored after the replenishment of water. Hence, it should only serve as one of the references.

Body fat percentage is a more accurate parameter in weight loss. High body fat increases the risks to chronic diseases such as high blood cholesterol and lipids, and obesity-related cancers.

The latest bathroom scales can measure body fat percentage and people can have better ideas about the ratio of fat to muscle in their body.

Nevertheless, measuring the waist circumference by tailor tape can give people a rough but fair idea of whether they are obese or not, Lee said. A waist circumference over 90 centimeters for males or 80 cm for females, signifies obesity.

Lee said taking a measurement of your waist or body fat percentage once a week is more than sufficient and is necessary to get the trend to plan a healthy diet and sport sessions.

People, especially those who are on a diet, believe that they should not eat if they are not feeling hungry. The reality is that not eating can make people gain weight.

“Each person will still need 1,200 calories a day even if they stay in bed all day long without doing any activities," Lee explained.

"It is also known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). When a person does not eat or eat enough, their BMR will slow down as their body senses that there aren’t enough calories for maintenance. The slow BMR is the reason people fail to lose, or worse, gain weight. Hence, people should avoid starving themselves and they should have some healthy snacks such as nuts or cereal energy bars between meals.” 

Eating according to one's feeling of hunger or fullness is not a good policy either. “The sense of fullness is related to the duration of a meal intake. If a person eats too quickly, the sense of fullness will not be able to deliver to the brain in time. Hence, he or she is likely to overeat. Chewing the food thoroughly and slowly can help digestion and avoid overeating,” Lee said.

On top of going on a diet, doing exercise is essential to weight loss. Tabata interval training has become popular to people who want to build muscles. It involves repeating eight cycles of doing high-intensity sports for 20 seconds and taking 10-second breaks under four minutes.

“Tabata interval training can raise people’s heart rate in a short time from 70 to 140 beats per minute in 20 seconds. It can also build muscles more effectively than running consistently for four minutes," Lee said.

"However, Tabata interval training is not suitable for all. People of old age, or with heart problems, musculoskeletal injuries or chronic illnesses should avoid Tabata interval training.”

Last but not least, persistence is vital to success. People should maintain a slow pace in trying to lose weight. They should see to it that they lose one or two pounds only per week by maintaining good and healthy living habits.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 11.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Lee Chun-kit, a specialist in family medicine, said the best way to lose weight is to do regular exercise and eat healthy food. Photo: HKEJ

Reporter at Hong Kong Economic Journal