Big bellies long have been a source of light-hearted humor, a means to fill roles as Santa Claus at Christmastime, and a source of pride for sumo wrestlers, but for most of us it’s not a goal to aspire to. We now know from health science that excessive fat in the abdominal area has been associated with diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Shedding a good portion of your oversized belly is a good idea if you want to live a long, healthy life.
When it comes to measuring belly fat, the most common method is by using a tape measure and measuring the circumference of your waist. It is generally considered that anything above 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women constitutes abdominal obesity, per healthline.com, meaning it’s time to start shedding pounds through diet and exercise so you can start tightening your belt another notch or two at a time over time.
Why Is Belly Fat Such a Big Concern?
As you might already know, not all fat is the same; there is good fat, such as heart-healthy omega-3’s, like that found in fish oils; and then there is bad fat, like that fat found near your waistline – what’s also known as a “middle-aged spread,” a term that sounds more endearing than it deserves to be.
As people age, their proportion of body fat to body weight inches up. That’s more so in women than men, and those extra pounds tend to accumulate around the midsection, per health.harvard.edu. All belly fat is not equal, either. In fact, there are layers of it: the “top layer” is subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grab and squeeze with your hand, and then there’s visceral fat, which is deeper, beneath the surface and within the abdominal cavity, out of reach and filling the space between your abdominal organs.
It is that out-of-reach fat, the visceral variety, that has been linked to metabolic disturbances, per health.harvard.edu, as well as to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and, for women, it is associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
How to Reduce Belly Fat and Enhance Health
First, it is almost impossible to spot-reduce specific fat, such as that residing in your belly, per livestrong.edu. But if you make a sustained effort to burn fat in general, such as through exercise and diet, belly fat should come off along with other unwanted fat, making for a more holistic approach that benefits you all-around. A consultation with your physician should be in order before you dive into any sort of dedicated fat-loss plan, but following are some suggestions to help you lose that apple or pear-shape and get you back on the road to a healthier body:
- Strength training. Working out with weights, under proper guidance or supervision, can really do the trick, especially when combined with cardio work. The strength training will eventually help you build more muscle, which burns more calories at rest than fat does, per livestrong.com. Proper dieting will help in weight loss, of course, but the bonus of exercise – working out with weights included – should result in a better body composition after you’ve lost the pounds you targeted for departure.
- Green tea extract. Green tea contains compounds, known as catechins, that inhibit the enzyme that breaks down norepinephrine, which works to maintain a high rate of burning calories, per muscleandfitness.com.
- Magnesium. Per shape.com, your body needs magnesium to help process more than 300 chemical reactions – not just for maintaining a steady heart rhythm and controlling blood sugar levels, but also for assisting in weight loss and burning away belly fat. Research has shown that use of magnesium supplements can also help reduce fluid retention during the menstrual cycle, producing a less bloated feeling. Magnesium can also be found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, beans, and nuts.
- Capsaicin supplements. Per muscleandfitness.com, this is the spicy chemical extracted from chile peppers. These can enhance fat loss and bolster metabolic rate by raising levels of norepinephrine.
- Sufficient amounts of sleep. Two separate studies cited at shape.com point out that women who get five hours or less of sleep at night either experience significant weight gain over 16 years compared to those who get more sleep, or consume more than 300 extra calories per day. More than likely, many women gaining weight have a foot in each category.
- Avoid sugar and sweetened drinks. Numerous studies, per healthline.com, have shown that excess sugar related to large amounts of fructose can lead to increased accumulation of fat in the belly and liver.
- Eat more protein. Protein has been shown to not only reduce cravings by 60 percent, per healthline.com, it can also boost metabolism significantly. Good combination of benefits.
- Watch the carbs. Per healthline.com, more than a dozen randomized trials have indicated that low-carb diets can double or triple weight loss compared to low-fat diets.