Some of the most common misconceptions I hear are that more crunches will take care of belly fat, lifting weights will tighten loose upper arm skin, and that working the chest muscles will lift saggy breasts. While I’m a big fan of exercise, I’m sorry to say that none of these approaches work.
Exercise is a very important component of living a healthy lifestyle. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following guidelines for most healthy adults:
- At least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity OR
- 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity OR
- You also can do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity
Resistance and flexibility training is an important part of staying fit and the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for these activities can be found here:
The benefits of exercise can include weight control, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, a lower risk of some cancers, strengthening bones and muscles, and improving your mental health, stress, and mood. The fact that it can tone muscle and make you look better in your favorite shirt, dress, jeans, or bikini doesn’t hurt either!
What exercise will not do is remove fat from a specific location of your body. The only way to lose fat is to burn more calories than you take in. When you lose fat, it is taken from all over your body rather from the area of the body that’s been working hardest as you exercise.
There is no exercise that “works” your skin. Loose skin has lost its elasticity, either due to broken elastic fibers (this is a contributor to stretch marks) or loss of elastin and collagen as we age. Certainly bulkier muscles will fill out loose skin better than smaller muscles, but women in particular are not usually interested in looking bulky, nor are they able to build as much muscle mass as men due to lower levels of testosterone.
If Exercise Doesn’t Work, Then What?
Body contouring surgery can be a helpful adjunct to diet and exercise. It is not intended to make a patient lose weight and in fact, with most procedures very little weight is actually removed during the procedure. What it can do, however, is remove loose skin and excess fat from an area that’s been resistant to diet and exercise. Body contouring procedures may include breast surgery (augmentation, reduction, or lift), arm lift, tummy tuck, body lift, liposuction, etc. depending on the area of concern.
The best results from a body contouring procedure will be achieved when the patient is at or near their ideal body weight. This means a body mass index (BMI) between 20 and 25. In case you’re interested in where you stand, a body mass calculator can be found here: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm
Patients should also maintain their weight after surgery, as weight changes after surgery can diminish the long-term results.
This is not to say that patients with a higher BMI can’t achieve improvement with body contouring surgery, but the further you are from your ideal body weight, the less ideal the results will be. With realistic expectations, I find that patients with a higher BMI can also be happy with their results.
Ok, I’ve got a problem area. What do I do first?
First, do what you can to achieve a healthy weight with diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Don’t try fad diets to lose weight quickly without a plan to maintain the weight loss. Once you’ve done what you can do on your own, if your problem area is still a problem, see a board certified plastic surgeon to talk about the procedure that may help you achieve your goals.