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Health Matters: The misguided allure of the fat burning zone

“A thing is neither better nor worse for having been praised” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Exercise and weight loss – the two go hand in hand (along with a sound nutritional plan). You’ve probably heard that to lose weight you should exercise in your “fat burning zone”. Doesn’t that sound tempting? Burn just fat - well sign me up! Not so fast! While there is truth in this statement, it only tells part of the weight loss-exercise story. The misconception lies in the fact that the total caloric expenditure is overlooked. Let’s look at this further.

In order to operate at peak efficiency, your body relies on burning a mix of stored carbohydrates and fat. At low intensities, such as a slow walk, you could burn up to 70 per cent of calories from stored fat. At moderate intensities, such as a jog, you could burn up to 50 per cent of calories from stored fat. So while it is true that lower intensities use a greater percentage of fat stores, it doesn’t translate into losing weight. That’s because we haven’t factored in total caloric expenditure. Consider the following data for a 60 kilograms person:


Total Time

Total Calories

Total Calories from Fat (approximately)

Walking 3.2 kilometres an hour

60 minutes



Jogging 8.0 kilometres an hour

60 minutes



As you can see, not only does this person burn more calories overall by jogging vs. walking for one hour, they also burn more calories from fat.

Lower intensity workouts are ideal for people who are just starting out or as a change of pace for people who are more active. However, if weight loss is your goal, stay away from the allure of the fat burning zone. Start off gradually and work up to a level that leaves you winded, yet energized. Remember the goal is to exercise consistently if you are looking for long-term weight loss.