The world might be starting to re-open, at least in the richer countries, but a lot is still unknown about the coronavirus, and more specifically COVID-19. In the UK, the picture is becoming gradually clearer, relative to when the country went into lockdown back in March 2020.
It’s now known that certain groups of people seem to have been hit hardest by the virus, especially those in care homes. While that group are predominantly elderly, and it’s easy to write them off flippantly as having underlying medical conditions, that’s far from the whole story.
People who are overweight have been more heavily impacted too, with a growing risk the higher the BMI is. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a ratio of height to weight, and while it’s a very blunt tool, statistically at the population level it’s a great measure of where an individual’s risk might lie.
BMI isn’t something people should dwell upon individually though, people can be perfectly healthy and have a BMI level that might label them overweight or even obese. That tends to be true for people who have a lot of muscle mass, such as athletes or body builders. Those groups (assuming they exercise in a healthy manner) are likely to be more healthy on average rather than less.
Exercise is one half of the equation when it comes to getting BMI under control, and while we said people shouldn’t focus on their number, you should have a fairly good idea if you need to shed a few pounds (or more). If in doubt, speak to your doctor – especially if you have health conditions or are under 18 and thinking of dieting. When it comes to losing weight, though, no matter what diet fad is popular, the simplest and most effective technique is a calories in, calories out deficit.
In other words, however much energy (calories) you get eating each day, you should aim to burn off – and then some. Adult women typically naturally burn 2,000 calories a day just going about their daily lives. For men, that rises to 2,500 calories. That’s why recommended daily calorie intake figures you see on food packaging matches those numbers, for the average person in the middle of the NHS defined ‘green zone’ for BMI, eating those amounts will maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, you’d gradually gain weight until you level out and likewise if you need to ideal gain a little, your weight will increase slowly.
What that doesn’t account for is exercise. If you walk more, ideally more than the often quoted 10,000 steps per day at a pace to raise your heart rate sufficiently, you’ll get through even more calories. Add a fast session cycling and you’ll burn seven to eight calories a minute. In essence, moving more during the day will help increase that threshold of 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men.
It’s been suggested recently that exercise isn’t a great way to lose weight – by that, people are referring to exercise in isolation without modifying your diet. Of course it’s possible to do it that way, but you have to do a lot of exercise to shed fat. It’s generally accepted that a pound of weight loss equates to 3,500 calories.
In other words, if you get an exercise bike and burn 100 calories per day (that’s probably around 12 and a half minutes or so of pedalling), you’ll be just under a pound lighter a month later than you would have been without that time on the bike.
It’s important to note that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a pound lighter in a month that you are today – if you’re currently gaining two pounds a month from overeating, you might only gain a pound this month with the cycling – a pound less than you’d otherwise have gained.
That last example highlights why turning to exercise can be a red herring, typically if you’re looking to lose weight, you’ve probably been eating more calories that you’ve been burning off, possibly over a very long period of time. At the very least, you need to tip the balance the other way to shed pounds. Ideally, if you can manage your diet to eat that maximum of 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 for men, you’ll be in a much better place. That way you’re changing your lifestyle which is required for long term results. Add in more exercise on top of that and you’ll see quicker results too.
At a time when being overweight means been far more susceptible to getting very ill from a virus on the loose, we should all be thinking about our waistlines and staying as healthy as possible. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg in the place of junk food is wise, and making meals like soups at home from fresh produce can be both healthy and satisfying too.