If you’re like many Americans this January, you’ve made a New Year's resolution to get healthy by eating better and amping up your fitness routine. But since staying in shape can be harder than getting there in the first place, what's the best way to maintain your fitness level once you've reached your goal? That's the question researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham attempted to answer in a new study.
To test whether certain types of exercise combined with specific meal plans work better than others, the researchers studied 140 women classified by the body mass index (BMI) scale as overweight. Each woman was put on an 800-calorie-a-day meal plan; they were also assigned to one of three workout regimes: Doing cardio three times a week, doing strength training three times a week, or not working out at all. After the women fell into the "normal" range of the BMI, they were put on a less grueling diet, but continued their fitness routines exactly as they had been doing them before. Both before the start of the study and after its conclusion, the researchers measured how much energy the women's bodies were burning off when they were at rest in order to see if there was a difference in energy expenditure pre- and post-weight loss.
The results? The women who had lost weight on the 800-calorie-a-day meal plan but whose fitness regime was to not work out at all burned fewer calories at rest than the other groups. The researchers speculate this was due to the fact that their low calorie intake led their bodies to believe they had less energy.
The women both in the cardio and strength training groups did have slower metabolisms after they’d lost weight — but those in the strength training group actually were able to compensate for it. According to lead study author Gary Hunter, Ph.D., this type of workout gives you more stamina and builds muscle; this both enables and encourages you to be more active in your every day life. The women in the strength training group reaped the benefits strength training gives both in the gym and out of it.
So, if you want to get in shape and stay in shape, getting in as much strength training as possible is probably your best bet. By doing this, you'll not only get active, but you'll also continue being active — even when you're not doing reps at the gym.
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