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The Really Bad News about Belly Fat

Middle age often finds people fighting belly fat. They develop unattractive “spare tires” or “muffin tops” that also signal that they are at higher risk for certain health conditions. Belly fat (central or abdominal obesity) increases the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, assorted cancers and dementia.

Belly fat frequently becomes a problem at mid-life – many times even for people who do not over-eat – for two reasons: First is that metabolism slows, causing the body to burn less fat. Second is that hormone levels drop, and the body reacts by changing where it accumulates fat and in what form.

How the Body Stores Fat

In early life, the body stores most fat in subcutaneous form (just under the skin) in the abdomen, thighs, hips and buttocks. At mid-life, the abdomen becomes the primary spot. This leads to “middle age spread,” the expanding waistline that to some degree plagues just about everyone by the time they reach age 50.

Subcutaneous fat around the mid-section is unsightly and can make clothing feel tight. However, the more serious problem is another type of fat also forming but not visible. Visceral fat accumulates around the heart, lungs, liver and other internal organs. The chemicals it releases contribute to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol and insulin resistance. Belly fat indicates that the body may be harboring dangerous stores of visceral fat.

Do you have unhealthy visceral fat?

Sometimes genetic pre-disposition makes visceral fat a problem even when age and excess weight are not factors. However, a large waist size is often an indicator that you have unhealthy visceral fat, but be aware that you don’t have to be overweight to have a large waist.

Measure your waist:

· Place a tape measure around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone.

· Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly but doesn’t push into your skin.

· Make sure the tape measure is level.

· Relax, exhale and measure your waist.

Healthy waist size:

· Women: Less than 35 inches

· Men: Less than 40 inches

With diet and exercise, you can reduce belly fat. This will also help you lose visceral fat.

(1) Reduce calories and portion size Follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

· Eat more vegetables and fruits, especially those that are dark-green, red and orange in color.

· Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.

· Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.

· Consume a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, unsalted nuts and seeds.

· Use oils to replace solid fats such as butter, margarine or vegetable shortening.

(2) Increase physical activity. Engage in light or moderate exercise daily. Consider activities such as brisk walking or riding your bicycle for at least 30 minutes. At least once a week, use light weights that you can lift a dozen times.

If you have difficulty setting aside time for workouts, incorporate shorter spurts of activity throughout your day. Follow this up with healthy eating and you will be pleased to see how quickly belly fat and visceral fat melt away.

The LHSFNA’s training manual, Nutrition & Fitness For Laborers, and the Nutrition & Fitness For Laborers and Build a Better Body brochures help Laborers improve their dietary and exercise habits which will help them lose belly fat. Order them through the Fund’s website by clicking on Publications.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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