Last week we looked at the use of the Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference measurement in assessing obesity. Frequently, people are bothered by the presence of visible (subcutaneous) abdominal fat and don’t consider the dangerous health consequences of visceral fat, the fat that is deep in the abdomen surrounding the internal organs. Excessive amounts of visceral fat sets the stage for the development of the metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Better known is the fact that generalized obesity increases one’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken to address excess belly fat:
- Lose weight overall. If you could stand to lose a few pounds (as most of us could), the best way to lose fat from the belly is to lose weight overall. This is best achieved by a combination of regular physical activity and caloric restriction (dieting). For most people, this is neither an easy nor a rapid process. The most lasting results from weight loss programs usually come from slow, steady progress, not from extreme diets or exercise programs. Emphasize complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and lean protein over simple carbohydrates such as white bread and refined-grain pasta. Pay attention to portion size. Reduce saturated fat sources of food from your diet, such as red meats and high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and butter. Dietary fat should come from foods that are higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, such as fish, nuts, and olive oil. Use the BMI and waist circumference to monitor your progress. When these become normal for your weight and height, a marked improvement in your belly fat is almost certain.
- Exercise to assist with weight loss. Many studies have shown that getting regular exercise, along with dieting, is the best way to lose weight. Weight loss occurs whenever more calories are burned than consumed. To illustrate, you need to burn approximately 3,500 calories to lose a pound of weight. If you burn 300 calories during a workout (e.g. walking 3 miles), it takes about 12 workouts to lose one pound. By cutting your caloric intake by 300 calories a day along with a 300-calorie bout of exercise, it takes half as long to lose that same pound of weight. A recent study from Duke University demonstrated that aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, etc.) was better than resistance training (“pumping iron”) in reducing visceral fat and improving risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. In their study, aerobic exercise burned 67 percent more calories than resistance training. For most healthy adults, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends performing moderate aerobic activity, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week. More than this may be required during the initial stages of a weight loss program. Although not as effective in burning calories, the ACSM also recommends performing 8 to10 strength-training exercises, with 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, twice a week.
- Establish life-long exercise and eating habits.
Many people ask about targeting belly fat with specific exercises. The general term for this is called “spot reduction”. Abdominal “crunches” for example are thought to be a way to specifically target belly fat. Unfortunately, spot reduction is almost impossible to achieve. Sit-ups, for example, are beneficial for abdominal muscle strengthening, but sit-ups alone will not get rid of the layer of fat that is covering the muscles. Nor will abdominal strengthening exercises address the deeper, visceral fat. Overall weight reduction through dieting and regular exercise is the best way to reduce ”belly fat”.
For information on weight loss diets, consider contacting our dietician at eDiet. Write to me through eFitness and I’ll be happy to help with your exercise program.