An expanding waist line, often referred to humorously as ‘love handles’ or ‘spare tyre’, is more than just an annoyance when zipping up your favourite jeans or an inevitable sign of older age.
Research reveals increasing amounts of fat specifically around the abdominal area also increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other serious health issues.
More importantly, this has been shown to be true in people who are considered to have ‘normal weight’ based on their body mass index (BMI) but have a large concentration of belly fat.
Belly fat is a trouble maker for both men and women. As weight is added around our abdomen, it is not limited to the extra fat layer just below the skin (subcutaneous fat) but also includes the fat inside the abdominal wall (visceral fat) which surrounds vital organs.
An excessive amount of visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can increase blood pressure; promote the accumulation of sticky plaque in your arteries and raising LDL (bad) cholesterol; alters our body’s ability to use insulin properly, often times leading to adult onset diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease; and promote inflammation within the arteries of the heart. When plaque deposits become inflamed they can burst and cause a heart attack.
Your waist circumference can be easily obtained by following these simple steps:
Place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone and about one inch above your belly button.
Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but not pressed into your skin.
Relax, exhale, and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.
According to national guidelines, a waist circumference of 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men indicate an unhealthy concentration of visceral fat and a cause for immediate action.
Weight is largely determined by how you balance the calories you eat with the energy you burn. Eating too many calories and not exercising enough will likely pack on extra pounds, including belly fat.
Muscle mass and age can influence weight. As you age, muscle mass decreases and the rate at which your body uses calories also decreases.
Women may notice an increase in belly fat as they age even if they are not gaining weight. This phenomenon has been linked to decreasing oestrogen levels which appears to influence where fat is distributed in the body.
Secrets to a slimmer waist
Weight loss and boosting your metabolism is more than the latest diet and two week exercise regime. It’s a conscious decision to make each day as healthy as possible.
You can shed abdominal fat by using the same strategies that can help you lose excess pounds and lower your total body fat:
Take an honest look at your food choices: Choose less white rice, bread, potato, pasta and fatty meats. Instead substitute whole grain rice, whole wheat pasta/bread, and sweet potato. These good-for-you carbs help curb hunger and provide extra fibre and vitamins. Combine lean protein like chicken, fish, low-fat dairy and beans with brightly coloured vegetables and fruit for a balanced diet.
Eat breakfast: Avoid sugary cereals and pastries but begin your day with a lean protein such as egg (limit 4-5 weekly) or low fat dairy and whole grain breakfast cereal or toast.
Snack light: Plan snacks for the day before you leave home. Having them ready and with you will help with the urge to make a trip to the candy/chip machine.
Monitor portion size: Share a meal or save half for later.
Pack a water bottle: Drinking water and unsweetened teas can help to keep you full between meals. Green tea has the added bonus of combatting inflammation in our bodies helping to decrease certain risk factors for heart disease and other serious health issues.
Daily exercise: Healthy weight loss is dependent on exercise. National guidelines for most healthy adults recommend a minimum of 30 minutes for moderate aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, biking or running. Work out with a partner and create goals to keep exercise fun.
Strength training: In addition to exercise, build muscle mass to help burn fat with strength training at least twice per week.
Don’t give up: Often weight loss seems too hard and not worth the effort. Start each day committed to making small changes, be consistent, and make it fun with a friend or family member who has the same goals.
Small changes today make for big results tomorrow. Your heart will thank you for it.
Jodie Kelley, RN, is Education and Programme Coordinator of the Heart Health Centre.