November 4, 2013. OK, boys and girls. Gut check. We're talking about - and measuring - visceral fat. Not just any fat. Just the fat that deposits itself between and around your abdominal organs. The belly fat. Not the shallow, pinchable "subcutaneous" fat below your skin. The Deep Fat.
Because the Deep Fat is the Dangerous Fat. Not all fat is created equal. The "visceral fat" that's stored in the deep abdominal cavity doesn't just sit there, even if you do. It appears to be active in biologically risky ways.
The Bad News
A very large-scale study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that excess abdominal fat just about doubles your risk of premature death due to stroke, heart disease and various cancers. Another study from the University of Illinois shows an even higher risk for diabetes associated with super-sized bellies. A report in The Lancet shows a nearly identical risk finding for heart attacks.
The findings are so clear and dramatic that they're causing the re-evaluation of definitions of "overweight" and "obesity". These descriptions have always been defined by Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of height and weight. BMI is still a good predictor of disease risk. But it turns out that Waist Circumference (WC) is much more accurate and reliable. Let's take out the measuring tape and see what we've got.
If your weight is "normal" but your WC is excessive - your risk levels are as high as overweight and obese people with less excessive "waist to hip ratio". The alarms really go off for guys with waists bigger than 40" and gals over 35".
Guts and Butts
If your weight's been pretty stable but more and more of it is taking up residence around your waist, you've probably been watching that move for a few years. While your weight may not be changing, your body composition might be: weight loss due to reduced bone density and muscle mass may be replaced by that softer stuff around your waist. Your butt may be shrinking while your gut's expanding.
The Good News
You can walk your gut off. Literally. You can run it off. Aerobic exercise every day. At least 30 minutes. More if you can. You can.
In fact, you can do some exercises that help prevent the loss of muscle strength and mass - and bone - density while they prepare you for a lot of aerobic exercise. Exercises good for flexibility, balance and strength. Walk before you run. Stretch before you walk. Here's Part 1 of your preparation: a daily schedule of stretching exercises. Because flexible muscles allow full range of motion. And muscles and joints with full range of motion can be more effectively strengthened by exercise.
Here's a schedule of strengthening exercises to try when you've achieved comfortable flexibility. Your flexibility will prevent injury and reduce soreness. Stretching exercises elongate and "loosen" muscles. Strengthening exercises contract and tighten muscles. You should always do both.
Today's exercises are designed to prevent or reverse the loss of muscle and bone mass and strength. They'll also provide a good aerobic workout when you can do them in quick repetition and for an extended period of time. Here's a 15-minute schedule you should work toward, gradually. When you can do it completely, you'll burn about 100 calories along the Way. When winter weather gets in the way of long walks and runs, these are terrific indoor exercises. And they require no equipment. It's just you and the floor.
Better Cheaper Slimmer Strengthening
Do these exercises every other day.
Squats to strengthen your butt and quadriceps. Do 10 in 1 minute. Rest 10seconds. Do 10 more.
No-Opponent Boxing to strengthen your back, shoulders, hips and core. 3 minutes
No-Bike Cycling to strengthen your legs and core. 5 minutes.
Hamstring Builder to strengthen your hamstrings, abs and lower back. 10 repetitions in 2 minutes
Push-ups to strengthen your arms, wrists, hands, shoulders and chest. Gradually work up to doing 20 in 1 to 2 minutes
Modified Crunches to strengthen your core, and especially abdominal, muscles. Work up to 50 in 1 minute
Work your Way up to this, gradually and comfortably. Then do it twice for a 30-minute exercise session that gives you both strength and aerobic benefits while it burns 200 calories. Don't inflict pain or cause injury to yourself. When you can do all of it comfortably, you're ready for extended aerobic exercise, whether it's walking or running. Indoors or outdoors. On the street or on a treadmill, step deck, bike or elliptical. This, together with a Low Glycemic Load diet, should begin to burn belly fat away. Gradually, consistently and permanently.
Equal opportunity fat
This sounds like a guy thing, the old beer belly. But gals develop deep abdominal fat, too - though most often after menopause. Once there, it's just as risky for women as for men.
Muscles and Time
The Statistics: most of us start to lose muscle mass and strength in our 30s. Between the ages of 40 and 50, we lose about 8% of it. Even more between 50 and 60. 15% per decade by the time we hit 75. Let's do the math: if you make it to 75, you're aging your way down to half-strength. When a 10-pound bag of groceries feels like 20 pounds.
Defying the statistics: "These declines may have more to do with lifestyle choices, including sedentary living and poor nutrition, than the absolute potential of musculoskeletal aging. This study ... shows that we are capable of preserving both muscle mass and strength with lifelong physical activity." The study, "Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes", was published in The Physician and Sports Medicine.
Every Thing Is Everything
For burning calories, muscle is better than fat. Three to five times better. People who began and completed a 16-week strength training program at Tufts University increased their resting metabolic (calorie-burning) rate by 15%. That's an additional 200 â 300 calories burned every day while you're doing ... nothing. Of course, you'll burn additional calories while you're doing your strength exercises
You don't have to be a runner to burn calories, but if you are you'll burn about 675 calories per hour. Rather dance? Fast. About 370 per hour. You'll burn calories at the rate of 325 per hour when you're actively gardening. Brisk walking: 300 calories per hour; strolling, just 200. Bicycling on flat terrain: 440/hour. Find out how many calories you can burn by exercising your way: use the American Cancer Society's Calorie Counter.