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Friday, April 27, 2007

Belly Fat and How to Beat It

Of all the e-mails I get sent every day, by far the most common - from men and women alike - are questions about how to lose stubborn belly fat.

A pot belly... love handles... the spare tire... call it what you will. It seems to be the area of your body that you'd really like to do something about.

Read on, and I'll explain why belly fat is so bad, and what you can do to get rid of it.

Not only is a firm, flat stomach the ultimate symbol of sex appeal, researchers have found that losing abdominal fat is one of the most important steps you can take to stay healthy for life.

Most people realize that excess fat is unhealthy, but the key is where the fat is distributed. People with apple-shaped bodies (fattest in the abdomen) have a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes than those with pear shapes (fattest in the hips, buttocks, and thighs).

Several studies have found a link between abdominal fat and markers of chronic inflammation [1, 7, 8]. The research is based on a relatively new idea that fat is an “organ” that produces substances — such as leptin and cytokines — that can affect your health [2]. In other words, there's more to the fat around your waist than what the scales and mirrors reveal.

What is inflammation and why should you care?

Most doctors will tell you that the best way to avoid a heart attack is to lower your cholesterol. What they won't tell you is that routine cholesterol tests identify less than half of all patients who are at risk for heart disease.

In other words, a patient can receive a "normal" cholesterol reading one day and still suffer a heart attack the next. The truth is that many cardiologists believe we should be looking beyond cholesterol.

As scientists delve deeper into the fundamental causes of heart disease and other illnesses, they are starting to see links to an age-old defense mechanism called inflammation. This is the same biological process that causes the redness, swelling and pain if you cut a finger

Inflammation is a vital process in the first line of defense against disease. But problems begin when, for one reason or another, the inflammatory process persists. If you want to learn more, the BBC Radio 4 program Frontiers has devoted an entire episode to the topic of inflammation.

One way to test for inflammation is to measure levels of C-reactive protein in the blood. Elevated levels of C-reactive protein are linked with a higher than average risk of heart disease.

What's interesting is that higher C-reactive protein levels are linked with body fat, especially the belly fat stored around your waist [1, 3, 4].

Fat in the midsection is stored deeper inside your body, in and around the liver and other organs. It's called visceral (pronounced viss-er-al) fat. Fat in the hip and thigh region is mainly stored just under the skin. This is called subcutaneous (pronounced sub-cue-tain-ee-us) fat.

What's the solution?

It won't surprise you to learn that the best way to lose abdominal fat is to eat right and exercise regularly. And there's a growing body of research showing that the fastest way to burn off the fat from your belly is with a combination of weight-training and aerobic exercise.

Some evidence for this comes from a six-month study of thirty obese women [6]. They were assigned to one of three groups: a control group, an aerobic exercise group and a combined exercise group.

The aerobic group did one hour of cardiovascular exercise (60-70% maximum heart rate) six days a week. The combined exercise program involved weight training (3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and aerobic exercise (3 days a week, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday).

Here's what the combined exercise program looked like:

  • Monday — Weight training (60 minutes)
  • Tuesday — Aerobic exercise (60 minutes)
  • Wednesday — Weight training (60 minutes)
  • Thursday — Aerobic exercise (60 minutes)
  • Friday — Weight training (60 minutes)
  • Saturday — Aerobic exercise (60 minutes)
  • Sunday — Off

As you can see in the table below, the combined exercise group lost almost three times more abdominal subcutaneous fat and 13% more visceral fat than the aerobic-only group.

A one-year study of men shows similar results [5]. Thirty-six men with coronary artery disease were assigned to one of three groups: weight training plus aerobic exercise, aerobic exercise only, and a control group who did nothing.

The drop in total and abdominal fat were higher in the combined exercise group (-11% and -12%, respectively) than in the group who only did aerobics (-2.4% and -0.7%, respectively).

So, what does all of this mean for you?

Belly fat is stored energy. To get rid of the layer of fat that's currently hiding your abs, you need to burn more energy (calories) than you eat on a regular basis. And hundreds of sit-ups or crunches simply don't burn enough calories to make much of a difference to the appearance of your waist and stomach.

"The truth is, getting six-pack 'killer' abs has almost nothing to do with training," writes Tom Venuto, author of Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle. "It has everything to do with low body fat."

If you've seen pictures of Tom, you'll know he has some of the best abs in the business and knows the truth on how to get rid of belly fat.

"Some people might argue that I was just blessed with good genetics in the ab department, which may be true," says Tom. "But based on my experience with others who have less favorable genetics, I still believe that developing the abdominal muscles is easy. The hardest part is getting your body fat low enough for your abs to show."

Have a great day and God bless!

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