Call it what you will – a beer belly, love handles or simply a chubby tummy – extra weight around the middle is a common problem. Are you hoping you can get rid of your “spare tire” before swimsuit season arrives? While vanity can be great motivation, here’s a far more pressing reason to take steps now to lose that excess abdominal fat – your health.
Dangers From too Much fat Around Your Waist
As your waistline expands, your health risks soar, too. In recent years, scientists have discovered why. It turns out that abdominal fat, technically known as visceral fat, is far more damaging to wellness than subcutaneous fat, the kind right under the skin that you can grasp with your hand.
Visceral fat forms deep within the abdominal cavity, creating pads of fat in the spaces between abdominal organs and causing your waist to expand. Research has shown that even if the scales show you are at a normal weight, you can have too much visceral fat in the abdominal area – resulting in a figure often described as “apple-shaped”.
So why is this a problem? Visceral fat cells, particularly those in the abdomen, are biologically active. According to the Harvard Medical School Healthguide website, this type of fat functions much like an endocrine organ or gland, pumping out hormones and other substances that can harm your health.
Health Risks Associated with Excess Abdominal Fat:
- A study from the Mayo Clinic found that the death from heart disease was almost 3 times higher, and the risk of death from all causes was more than 2 times higher, even in people of normal weight who had a “spare tire.”
- Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol. It significantly raises LDL (bad) cholesterol but lowers HDL (good) cholesterol.
- A National Institute of Aging (NIA) study concluded that excess fat around the belly during a person’s midlife years may increase the risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), during old age.
- Have a “spare tire” also ups the odds of developing type 2 diabetes because visceral fat contributes to insulin resistance, meaning your body doesn’t respond adequately to normal levels of insulin (the hormone that carries glucose into the body’s cells).
- According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the risk of breast and colorectal cancers is significantly higher in people with excess abdominal fat. A too chubby tummy raises stroke risk, too.
How to Tell if You Have too Much Abdominal Fat
Measurements that compare your hip and waist circumference (waist-to-hip ratio) or compare your height and weight (body mass index, or BMI) can reveal whether your middle is too large. However, according to the NIA, simply measuring your waist size alone can provide a good estimate of excess abdominal fat.
For most men, a waist size greater than 37 inches (94 cm) and a waist larger than 31.5 inches (80 cm) for women may be a red flag warning of future health problems – and should spur you to get serious about losing extra inches.
How to Accurately Measure Your Waist:
- Wrap a tape measure around your bare abdomen, right above your hip bone. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around your waist.
- Pull the tape measure until it feels snug around your center but isn’t digging into skin.
- Relax, exhale and measure your waist – and do not hold in your tummy!
Ready, Set, Go Lose that Body Fat
According to the Mayo Clinic, doing sit-ups and other abdominal muscles can tone muscles but they won’t zap your belly fat. To lose that excess blubber and keep it from coming back, it takes several lifestyle changes that will produce slow and steady weight loss of about 2 pounds a week.
Use These Simply but Effective Strategies to Win Your Battle of the Bulge:
- Eat a healthy diet. Cut out processed foods and stick to plant-based meals with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and choose lean sources of protein.
- Avoid saturated fat found in meat and high-fat dairy products. Instead, opt for moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils.
- Ditch sweet drinks. In his new book The Lean Belly Prescription: The Fast and Foolproof Diet & Weight-Loss Plan from America’s Top Urgent-Care Doctor (Rodale), Travis Stork, MD, the host of the popular “The Doctors” TV show advises what he calls “ …one of the simplest and most effective weight-loss tricks: Swapping sweetened beverages for unsweetened.” Dr. Stork points out that an average American takes in about 450 calories in sweet drinks every day. In a week, that comes to around 3,000 calories. Because 3,500 calories add up to a pound of fat, over time nixing the sweet drinks can add up to serious weight loss.
- Get real about portion sizes. Even when you are eating healthy meals, calories still add up so pay attention to portion sizes both at home at in restaurants. If you eat out often, make it a habit of eating only half of your meal and taking the rest home for another meal.
- Exercise. If you are new to working out or have any health problems, consult your doctor to plan a safe exercise program and stick to it. Even simply increasing physical activity in your daily routine – like walking instead of riding whenever you can – can go far in revving up metabolism and dropping pounds. For most healthy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for a minimum of 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, like running or cycling, for at least 75 minutes a week. Strength training (exercising with weights) has also been found to help reduce abdominal fat.
- Get enough sleep and learn to relax. Cortisol, a hormone your body produces during times of stress, is correlated with an increase in belly fat. So getting stress under control is crucial to whittling down your “spare tire.” Make sure you get enough sleep (most adults need at least 7 hours a night) and learn to relax. Consider taking a yoga class, use relaxation CDs or simply take time during your work day to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and let yourself decompress.