What’s your required MET?Aug 2nd, 2009 | By editor | Category: Health, Specials
Push yourself beyond your comfort zone every few minutes while exercising and see the difference it makes to your body.
You’ve been instructed to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes every day. So you saunter along listening to your iPod, wondering what to have for lunch. After all, it is minimum 30 minutes/day to maintain health isn’t it? No problem, you can do it.
The media screams that a lower intensity workout burns more fat. What could be better? You stroll around the park barely working up a sweat. This seems pretty straightforward and easy. Why didn’t you think of it before?
All information needs to be viewed in the right context or it could be interpreted biased and be completely useless. It may be true that a low intensity, longer duration workout derives energy required primarily from fat stores once the glucose available from your food is depleted. So let us presume for example that you walk at 3.1 mph and burn about 150 calories.
Most of those calories may have been derived from your fat stores; however, it is long-term calorie management and deficit that is crucial in weight loss and, more importantly, weight management. If, for instance, you had worked at a much higher intensity during that one hour, burning about 300-500 calories, in the long haul the chances are you will be able to maintain a calorie deficit (which is essential for weight loss). We all know just how easy it is to compensate 150 calories with food. The accumulation of calories burnt over an extended period of time is more important than per individual session.
Another important finding needs to be highlighted here. If you are capable of working at higher intensities, then doing so will cause a continued increased consumption of energy and, therefore calories, post workout. The higher the intensity of the workout, whether cardio or weight training, the higher the calorie burn afterwards, sometimes persisting for as long as 6-12 hours. This increase although marginal, is valuable for fat loss.
Extensive research has been done in the past evaluating the best “workout intensities” or METs for men. This research indicates that if men worked out at their required MET their chances of a “cardiovascular event” — in simpler terms a heart attack — was reduced by 75 per cent. Similar research has been done (finally!) on women and graphs and values have been configured giving us similar information about the MET requirements for women.
What is a MET?
MET is an acronym for Metabolic Equivalent. The energy expended at rest is generally referred to as 1 MET. As you increase physical activity your METs increase. Gardening for instance, could have you working at a MET of about 5. A stroll in the park could be anywhere from 3-5 METs.
How is your required MET calculated?
Required MET is calculated depending on age and basic lifestyle of the individual (sedentary/highly active). Of course this is relevant only to physiologically normal people. Those with health issues, post surgery or physically handicapped are to be treated differently, and this involves a different set of goals, objectives and working principles.
A fitness professional should be able to educate you on your required METs during your workout in order to attain maximum benefits. Initially, achieving your required Metabolic Equivalent may seem a Herculean task.
You didn’t anticipate how dreadful this would feel! How are you supposed to keep this up?
As your fitness levels increase, however, it gets easier and more manageable. It gives you a goal to work towards that is easily measurable and reproducible since it is denoted by a simple number on your cardio machine. Workout intensities are hard to define and explain otherwise. Subjective measures of intensity like the “talk test”, (although still extensively used), often have inexperienced clients over-estimating their intensity and ending up not pushing themselves to the best of their capability.
How do you identify your MET in a gym setting?
Most cardiovascular equipment in gyms have MET settings as one of the options on the control panel and can be easily viewed while training. You will notice that you can increase/decrease your MET by increasing the speed, incline or workload on the machine. Over a period of time, an experienced exerciser can easily recognise his working MET even while exercising outdoors without the aid of a machine.
You may not be able to sustain your required Metabolic Equivalent for the entire duration of your workout. The idea is to try and get to it from time to time. In other words, push yourself beyond your comfort zone every few minutes during your workout to reach your required MET. This is called High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, and is highly effective in fat loss as well as producing remarkable improvement in cardiovascular endurance.
The human body is enormously capable of improvement, provided we challenge it. Maintaining one’s intensity levels at a humdrum, comfortable level through our workout will only create monotony and set the stage for what is referred to as “hitting the wall” in physical fitness terms. You will see no progress.
On the other hand being able to achieve your Metabolic Equivalent time and time again and being able to maintain it longer will give you sense of achievement and satisfaction and will urge your body to higher limits.
If you happen to fall off the wagon and haven’t seen your training shoes in a while, it is always advisable to start over at a lower intensity and work your way up once again. Fitness levels tend to deteriorate with neglect. It is unrealistic and not very prudent to expect to resume where you left off after a long sojourn.
Of course there will be days when all you want to do is stroll, go through a gentle stretch class or practice relaxation. That’s reasonable and acceptable. Let those days be few and far between. There is always room for improvement.
The reason scientists’ research, publishing new findings (which, of course, change with newer research!), is so we can set fresh parameters for ourselves, aim to get better and try and reach for the stars.
Dr. Sheela Nambiar is the Director, TFL Fitness Studio, Chennai. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.