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The myth of the fat burning zone

If your goal is fat loss, don't get enticed by the 'fat burning' programs on cardio machines, or the myth of the "fat burning zone." They are both based on misunderstood science.

I understand why you would try the program, who wouldn't get drawn in by a something that promises fat loss. Plus, fat burning programs make you work at a low heart rate, so they are fairly easy.An easy workout that offers miraculous fat loss -- that sounds like most people's dream.

Unfortunately the results are not as promising as the name implies.

Fat burning programs and the 'fat burning zone' make you work at a low intensity heart rate for a long period. They get their names from the fact that working out at a lower intensity will burn a higher percentage of calories from fat.

The key word is percentage. Although working out at a lower intensity will burn a higher percentage of calories from fat, when you work out at a higher intensity for the same amount of time, you burn far more calories.

This means that while higher intensity cardio burns less fat per single calorie, you burn more fat overall because you burn more calories. Total calorie expenditure is what is important for weight loss.

Plus, the fat you burn during low intensity activity is mostly the fat stored in your muscles, not adipose tissue fat, which is the fat most people want to melt off their hips.

Basically, there are no miracle solutions. If you want to lose fat do some interval training, try to participate in at least 30 minutes of any cardiovascular activity that gets your heart rate up most days of the week, strength train and start paying attention to what you put in your mouth.

Don't let yourself fall into the trap of believing that just because you worked out you deserve to have all the beer, cake, fried food, etc. (fill in the blank) that you want.

You might be surprised by how few calories you used during your workout and how many calories your "cheat" meal actually includes.

Also, try to stop labeling foods as "bad" and then using exercise as a way to justify indulging in them. Labeling foods as "good" and "bad" just sets you up to feel deprived, and then binge. If you want something, regardless of if you have exercised or not, be mindful of your portion and then enjoy the experience. Don't mindlessly eat, and don't use a workout as an excuse to binge. Portion sizes are always important, even on days you exercise.

One final note, yes, if your goal is fat loss don't fall into the trap of believing that the "fat burning zone" is your miracle solution, but keep in mind that for overall health remember some movement is always better than no movement. So, don't allow yourself to be totally inactive when you can't fit in the "perfect" workout. Doing something will always make you feel better than doing nothing. Walk to work, walk at lunch or do some body weight exercises in your living room.

Plus, for certain people, in certain situations, low-intensity training is beneficial. If you are new to exercise or overweight, for example, exercising within a lower heart-rate zone lets your body get used to regular activity safely. Or, if you have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, your doctor may advise you to work out in a lower heart-rate zone. And if you are an athlete or someone who exercises frequently at an intense level, it is important to schedule "active-recovery" workouts. "Active-recovery" workouts are done within a lower heart-rate zone to allow the body to recover.