belly fatBelly Fat, abflab, spare tire, pot belly, love handles – all these playful phrases refer to what the medical profession calls abdominal obesity. Unfortunately, abdominal obesity is anything but funny. It’s downright dangerous. Research has shown that in young and older people alike, those with big bellies are at increased risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. hypertension. stroke, insulin resistance. diabetes, and even cancer.

More than one-third of U.S. adults – that’s more than 72 million people – are obese, and more than half of all U.S. adults have abdominal obesity, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet you can reduce your mid-section, and your blood pressure and high cholesterol, with a few simple lifestyle changes.

Scientists used to think that fat cells were just a repository for excess fat, like storage trunks that just sit there. But in recent years, researchers have discovered that fat cells secrete hormones and other substances, some bad and some good. Some of these substances help reduce inflammation while some increase inflammation. The more excess fat you have, though, the more bad chemicals the fat produces. Fat cells are active little endocrine factories producing a wide array of hormones and other compounds that arc poured into the blood.

When it comes to belly fat, there are two kinds: subcutaneous fat, which accumulates around your middle, and visceral fat, hidden under your abdominal muscles. Subcutaneous fat contributes to inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Visceral fat plays an important role in our immune system. Visceral fat is filled with white blood cells that mop up microbes and other toxic substances that may escape through the intestinal wall. But too much visceral fat secretes inflammatory chemicals – much more than fat cells found in other parts of your body. Inflammation is what researchers believe leads to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Excessive visceral fat also dumps a lot of free fatty acids into the bloodstream, which carries them directly to the liver. Chronic overflow of fat to the liver results in high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and insulin resistance. Also, excess visceral fat has been linked to fat accumulating around organs such as the heart and liver, which impairs their ability to function well.

The dangers of belly fat:
• Abflab in midlife increases the risk for dementia and cognitive decline later in life, A 2008 study in the journal Neurology found that central obesity in mid-life triples the risk of dementia 30 years later. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why.

• Researchers in the United States and Netherlands found that women and men with a large waist circumference had a 50 percent increased risk of mortality compared with people with smaller waist sizes, irrespective of their overall weight.

• Data from the 15 year-long Women’s Health Initiative found that the bigger a woman’s waist, the greater the risk for lung cancer in current and former smokers. Researchers suspect that abdominal obesity may affect how the body metabolizes tobacco carcinogens.

• Too much belly fat puts you at risk for metabolic syndrome, which is associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

• Abdominal obesity has been associated with migraine headaches. A study presented by the American Academy of Neurology found that women with extra belly fat were 30 percent more likely to experience migraines than women without excess belly fat.

• Abdominal obesity is a potent risk factor for stroke.

There ls a high range of waist circumference for any given BMI. Some people carry their weight in their thighs or buttocks and have a reasonable waist size. But if their BMI is over 25, they are considered obese and are vulnerable to all the health dangers of obesity. Then again, other people may have a BMI under 25 but a large waist circumference, which categorizes them as being abdominal obese. However, the measurement of girth is a very good predictor of hazard, and the guy who keeps his 35-inch belt but wears it lower and lower so that eventually his belly is hanging over it is not doing himself any favors. To find out if your belly is putting you at risk, you need to know your waist circumference and body mass index (BMI). Together, waist circumference and BMI can be very helpful in assessing your health risks.

Checking your waist circumference is as easy as taking out a tape measure and wrapping it around your waist (but don’t cheat by sucking in your gut when you take the measurement). Men in the United States should have a waist measurement of 40 inches or less, and women should have a waist that measures 35 inches or less. To find yours, wrap a tape measure around your stomach. The bottom of the tape should be even with the top of your hip bone. Keep the tape straight and snug, but don’t let it dig into your skin.

As we age, muscle mass declines. metabolism slows. and fat tends to collect around our middles. But, you can minimize the effects with a healthful diet and regular exercise, If you are conscientious you will see results in several months. Fancy fat-burninq diets or foods that are said to burn fat are a bunch of baloney. No single food Will burn fat. The only way to burn fat is to eat fewer calories and exercise on a daily basis.

Only 26 percent of U.S. adults say they engage in vigorous leisure-time physical activity three or more times per week (defined as periods of vigorous physical activity lasting 10 minutes or more). Abdominal exercises. such as sit-lips. arc a great way to strengthen your abdominal muscles. but they don’t do a thing to get rid of the fat on top or underneath them. Daily cardiovascular exercise. such as brisk walking. biking. or taking an aerobics class. helps burn belly fat.

Your genes influence where your body decides to store extra fat. Even if you are genetically inclined to store fat around your waist, you are not doomed to end up looking like your rotund Aunt Ida. Research and common sense tell us that behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and being a couch potato lead to less healthy lifestyles, which often lead to a big stomach.

If you manage your caloric intake and engage in daily exercise, you will still have Aunt Ida’s blue eyes-but not her waist. When your body is stressed. it produces cortisol, a hormone that places your body on alert. Research suggests that this hormone can lead to an increase in belly fat in adults and children. Stress is also linked to behaviors such as increased eating, drinking, smoking, and less exercise.

Men have roughly double the amount of abdominal fat as women. So it is not unusual to see men with big bellies. But once a woman enters menopause, the playing field levels. Hormonal changes that occur in a woman’s body may change the way she stores fat. Menopause is associated with selective deposition of visceral fat as well as other metabolic changes that increase women’s risk for heart disease. Women ages 45-54 are three times more likely than men that age to have a stroke, and belly fat appears to be the reason why. It raises cholesterol and blood pressure.

No matter your age, you need not be stuck with a big gut for the rest of your life. A 2003 study in the Journal of/he American Medical Association found that post-menopausal women who engaged in 45 minutes of exercise daily, such as brisk walking, lost between 3.4 percent and 6.9 percent of their abdominal fat in a year’s time.

Walking the equivalent of 11 miles a week prevented accumulation of visceral fat. More exercise resulted in a loss of ab flab. Subjects who did not exercise gained a significant amount of abdominal fat, including visceral fat in only six months. There is a high cost of a sedentary lifestyle in the short and long-term. The good news is – when people lose weight, often the first place they lose it is in their midsection.

Beware the quick fix. If you are overweight or obese. you need to lose some weight for the sake of your health and well-being. Stay away from fad diets. including those that suggest cutting out entire food groups such as carbohydrate. and from quick fixes. such as pills and certain juices that promise rapid weight loss. The best overall approach to reducing belly fat is to combine sensible eating with regular exercise.

Healthful foods include whole grains, beans, low-fat or non-fat dairy, and lots of vegetables and fruits. Eating lean protein, such as fish and chicken is associated with a reduction in abdominal fat. Reducing the amount of saturated fat – the kind found in butter, cheese. meat, and ice cream – also helps reduce belly fat and your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Belly Fat-Fighting Foods:

1. Avocados
Merely half of one avocado contains 10 grams of healthy mono-saturated fats, which stop the blood sugar spikes that tell your body to store fat around your midsection. Not only do healthy fats in avocado help thwart belly bloat, they also help our bodies better absorb carotenoids, cancer-fighting compounds found in colorful fruits and veggies like tomatoes, carrots, spinach and winter squash. In fact, people who ate salads with avocado had 15 times higher absorption of carotenoids, a study from The Ohio State University at Columbus found.

2. Bananas
The fruit packs 422 milligrams of potassium, a mineral that can help limit the amount of belly swelling sodium in your body.

3. Yogurt
A cup encourages the growth of good bacteria in your gut, throwing out other bugs that can cause bloating. Creamy Greek yogurt is yummy, but it’s also much more than that: Its combo of carbs and protein help stabilize insulin, a hormone that tells your body to store calories as fat when levels get too high.

4. Berries
Antioxidants can improve blood flow, delivering more oxygen to muscles — so ab revealing cardio is easier. Have some yogurt and berries before your workout to get those muscles ready for action.

5. Chocolate Skim Milk
A glass teams carbohydrates with protein to promote muscle building. Drink POST workout to speed recovery. Plus, you are getting that calcium to make your bones stronger. Chocolate milk is not just for kids!

6. Green Tea
Three cups daily may rev up your metabolism and burn 30 calories, a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows. The compound ECGC in the tea makes it easier to burn fat.

7. Citrus
Supermarket shocker: Vitamin C in colorful produce, like oranges and red peppers can help you zap up to 30 percent more fat during exercise, research from Arizona State University at Mesa suggests.

8. Whole Grains
Carb lovers, Rejoice! The filling fiber in foods like oatmeal, brown rice, and bulgur aids in keeping your body’s insulin levels low. Researchers speculate this may shrink fat cells. Your body absorbs and burns these more slowly for longer-lasting energy than the refined carbs in white bread and rice.

Here are a few discreet downsizers, or stealthy stomach slimmers.

While you’re working out: On the elliptical or treadmill, keep your back straight, head forward and abs tight. Perfect posture will target your tummy as you sizzle calories.

When you’re in the car: Tighten and release abs repeatedly at red lights. It’s the ab equivalent of Kegels: a little move that yields results almost without your noticing.

When you’re at your desk: Give belly pooch the pink slip with pilates breathing: Gently suck in your gut as if you were buttoning a tight pair of jeans. Then breathe without allowing your abs to relax. Do this for 30 seconds. Repeat five times, advises Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University.

When you’re walking Fido: Brace against leash tugging and banish your belly: Keeping torso upright with shoulders back, engage abs for five strides; relax them for five strides. Repeat until you’re back at your front door, says Torri Shack, a trainer in Los Angeles. Check out your (bow) wow abs!

When you’re in bed: Count on compliments, not sheep, with this mattress move: Place palms right below belly button. Exhale and allow stomach to expand. Then inhale, pulling belly button toward spine, drawing abdomen toward the box spring. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat four times.

Here are five saboteurs of sexy stomachs, so don’t make nice. These are your ab-versaries.

Booze: Feel free to raise a glass-but only one. Women who had one drink a day or less had a smaller belly than both teetotalers and occasional drinkers who had two or more alcoholic beverages in a sitting, a study in the Journal of Nutrition reports. We’ll toast to that!

Time in front of the TV: We love a DVR-athon, too, but people who tuned in for two or more hours daily had weaker back and ab muscles (by up to 10 percent) than those who viewed less than two hours, regardless of their overall activity level, researchers from the University of Oulu note. An hour of tube time is fine, especially if it motivates you to hit the gym. Worthy of watching: Smallville’s Tom “Clark Kent” Welling and Justin “Green Arrow” Hartley, whose super fly abs sure make us want to breathe heavier.

Stressing out:: Feeling frazzled and frantic? Increased levels of the hormone cortisol, a result of chronic worry, lead to excess stomach fat, research shows. To de-stress and weigh much less, learn to breathe. Slowly inhale through your nose, counting to four. Then exhale from your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat until refreshed.

That darned bread basket!: Those fluffy white rolls? They’re your flat-ab foe. When facing a bread basket, check its contents before digging in. If you see whole grains, go for it-in fact, feel free to enjoy 3 ounces a day. (One slice of whole-wheat bread or 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice are each 1 ounce.) Dieters who did so lost more stomach fat than those who merely cut calories and ate refined grains, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals.

Late-night munchies: We hate to be a Debbie Downer, so think of us as Debbie Downsizer: Pass up p.m. snacks. Your body may not burn nighttime nibbles as efficiently as it does those you eat during the day, a study of high-fat diets in the journal Obesity finds. Declare “last call” two hours before bed. “If you’re really hungry, have a 150-calorie snack,” says self contributing expert Janis Jibrin, R.D. If not, sip tea, cut the lights and bid farewell to the fridge until morning.

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