October 2003 Issue
The role of hormones and insulin in female fat development.
By Teresa TappMost women can relate to fighting the ongoing battle against increasing fat that seems to begin in our 20s, accelerates in our 30s, accumulates in our 40s, and explodes in our 50s. Even though we may consume the same amount of calories and maintain the same level of exercise or activity, we seem to lose control over the formation of new fat.
Initially this fat seems to shift to new areas of concern, but eventually grows into layers, which often covers the hard earned muscle tissue. The common approach to getting rid of this fat is to reduce calories and increase exercise. This may work initially, but eventually the fat wins. What to do? Center on the core!
I first studied metabolic breakpoints versus glucose utilization rates in reference to female hormones for my master's thesis. In my opinion, spinal density (the thickness of the muscle that attaches to the spine) is one of the primary secrets to success in being able to consume carbohydrates without gaining weight. Involuntary muscle movement-the muscles that attach to the spine to maintain an upright position as well as the muscles involved in breathing-use glucose for fuel while active muscle movement prefers fat for fuel.
Because we use our arms and legs daily, we generally maintain muscle in those areas, but the majority of us do not do cartwheels, somersaults or other movements that involve balance on a daily basis. We know that if we don't use it, we lose it, so atrophy begins. A decrease in spinal density means less fuel (glucose) is needed for spinal support to maintain an upright position, so although consumption of carbohydrate calories remains constant, excess glucose will develop and be converted to fat. Unfortunately, once existing fat cells become full, the body will create more fat cells. Fat cells never disappear; they're either empty or full.
State of Flux
To complicate matters, female hormones create continual estrogen/insulin fluctuations. Our bodies are in a constant state of homeostasis, meaning each time our level of estrogen increases, the pancreas reacts by releasing more insulin to maintain hormonal balance. Because insulin is classified as a fat producing hormone, increased estrogen levels trigger a vicious cycle. The increased insulin, produced in reaction to carbohydrate consumption, creates increased estrogen, which then causes even more insulin to be produced.
To compound the challenge, female bodies undergo additional hormonal changes, specifically estrogen dominance, during the onset of menopause. So female fat accumulation continues to grow with increased furor as we age unless we maintain or rebuild our resting glucose utilization rate
Resting glucose utilization rate is similar, but not the same as, base metabolic rate. To maintain resting glucose utilization rate, it is important to maintain balanced muscle density on the spine. Muscles need to be activated at both points of attachment for full fiber contraction, but most exercise programs are only isotonic in nature (one attachment). However, muscle movements involving balance are both comprehensive (both attachments) as well as compound, involving multiple muscles.
The trend in the fitness industry is toward increased focus on core development, with a variety of equipment, ranging from the Reebok Coreboard to the Bosu Ball to the Resist-A-Ball, so it is easy to incorporate balance workouts. But with exercise programs such as Pilates and T-Tapp, it is not necessary to use equipment for balance development. These comprehensive, compound muscle exercise programs utilize the body as a machine.
Along with increasing spinal density, it is also important to include aerobic activity for glucose control. I have included a sample exercise from the T-Tapp program called "hoe downs" (see box). This exercise (utilizing isometric contractions of large muscle groups and lymphatic stimulation) has been proven to help the body drop glucose levels an average of 62 to 85 points within three minutes. That's faster than an insulin shot!
Although hoe downs have been used to manage diabetic conditions, it is also a great movement for burning off excess glucose before it converts to fat. I suggest performing hoe downs after a meal or carbohydrate snack or whenever you need extra energy or clarity of mind. You can even add aerobic elements to your favorite weight training program by doing hoe downs during warm up. Although it looks simple, you'll be surprised how aerobically challenging it is.
The easiest way too increase aerobic benefits and glucose control is to get up and be active. Even just walking has aerobic benefits. Did you realize that walking involves more muscles than jogging? Try doing a combination of walking/jogging instead of straight jogging for a change. You'll soon notice increased slimming of the hips and thighs within a month if done regularly. Make sure to keep the shoulders in linear alignment with the hips in order to maximize muscle activation.
Wear ergonomic, weighted athletic shoes to increase the intensity of the exercise. Ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 pounds per shoe, weighted shoes have been clinically proven to increase base metabolic rate up to 25 percent within two weeks. I discourage the use of ankle weights, which can compound foot problems like plantar fasciitis, arch issues or knee problems. The ergonomic design not only provides spinal support, it also maximizes muscle movement from the waist down to build muscle density instead of muscle bulk.
Get Moving With Hoe Downs