Burn Calories or Burn Fat to Lose Weight?

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By Joan Pagano

burning fatLosing weight is always one of the top New Year’s resolutions – which makes you realize how difficult it can be to achieve!  So to get started on the right note let’s clear up a common misconception about which contributes to greater weight loss:  exercising in the “fat-burning” zone or at a higher level of intensity?

The answer lies in the number of calories burned and not in which fuel the body uses for energy.  To burn the most calories, you need to exercise at higher intensities.  For example, you burn more calories running for 30 minutes than walking for the same amount of time.  Running consumes calories from readily available fuel of carbohydrates, while walking at a more leisurely pace utilizes slower-burning fat for fuel; however you are using fewer calories per minute than with more intense exercise.

According to other new research, high intensity interval training (HIIT), short bursts of intense exercise alternating with recovery periods, may have the potential to lower abdominal fat by creating a surge in hormones that have been shown to drive fat breakdown, especially deep abdominal fat.

sign up boxSo higher intensity exercise is the ticket to weight loss because it burns more calories and reduces abdominal fat.  If you are more comfortable with moderate exercise but would like to ramp up your program, here are several tips:

  • Know your heart rate training range, which determines how hard you should work for light, moderate and high intensity levels. Find your estimated maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.  Then take 60% of your max for an easy pace; 70% for moderate; and 80% for high intensity.
  • Intersperse faster paced intervals into your moderate cardio activity.  For example, instead of doing a continuous pace 30 minute walking workout, walk at a moderate pace for three minutes, then pick up the pace and walk faster for another three minutes, and repeat five times.
  • Add intervals of cardio activity into your strength training program, so that you keep your heart rate elevated continuously.  Do a strength exercise, then one minute of cardio, like step ups, jogging in place, or jumping jacks.

Go for the burn, that is, the calorie burn!

(c) Copyright – Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.



  • Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at: www.joanpaganofitness.com/

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