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The Health Risks of Belly Fat and Ways to Lose Yours

Have that spare tire around your midsection you really want to get rid of? Have your pants gotten hard and hard to do up? Belt notches changing every month? Have you finally decided to do something about it and do not know where to start? You have come to the right place.

Firstly, our body stores fat as a result of a positive energy balance (for explanation on energy balance, please read my article here) and it stores it as two types – Visceral and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is located around our internal organs while subcutaneous fat is located just underneath the skin. The fat we notice is subcutaneous and is primarily localized to the chest, thighs, and our abdomen.

Fun fact: you have a six pack – it’s just hidden under the subcutaneous fat. So how do we lose this unwanted belly fat? Firstly, we need to eat less and move more. For men and women, loosing belly fat is primarily the same – increasing levels of aerobic activity can increase energy expenditure, resulting in weight loss – hopefully from fat stores located around the midsection. Unfortunately we cannot ‘target’ specific areas of the body… Our body utilizes fat from areas it can most easily access the energy from, and it is different for every individual. By reducing our overall body fat percentage, we can decrease belly fat.

Health Benefits

Positive health consequences are also linked with reductions in abdominal fat. People with larger midsections (Women with waist circumferences of 35 inches or greater, men with 40 inches or greater) are at greater risk of type two diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and hypertension. The table below outlines the risk and the associations between Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC).

 

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Normal

Overweight

Obese Class 1

Waist Circumference (WC)

Women <35 inches

Men <40 inches

Least Risk

Increased Risk

High Risk

Women >35 inches

Men >40 inches

Increased Risk

High Risk

Very High Risk

 

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests that weight bearing aerobic exercise will elicit the greatest expenditure than non-weight bearing. Furthermore, they suggest that variation in aerobic exercise modalities (running, cycling, swimming, elliptical, etc.) will increase adherence to physical activity due to decreased monotony.

So what kinds of activity will allow me to decrease my belly fat? The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists (CSEP) suggests conducting at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, with sessions lasting 45-60 minutes. Overtime, one should try to increase their aerobic activity levels to around 200-300 minutes per week. To put this into a calorie expenditure value, one should attempt to expend >2000 calories per week from activity – not including dietary modifications (which is an entirely different topic and will be discussed in the future – not to worry!).

What aerobic activities to lose belly fat?

This is a very specific question, and cannot be answered in a sense. We cannot target specific areas for weight loss, but we can reduce our overall body fat, thus reducing our belly fat (scientific term: subcutaneous fat). The same is two for both men and women. Aerobic activities include (but not exclusively): Running, walking, biking, swimming, elliptical, sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and the list goes on. If you can get your heart rate elevated for extended periods of time through body movements, it can possibly be classified as aerobic activities. Attend a spinning class or an aerobics class at your local gym facility 3-4 times a week. It will burn calories and give you social interaction to help in adherence to physical activity.

Definition? Toning?

So you have reduced your belly fat through aerobic exercise and want some exercises to compliment your thinning physique, particularly around the abdominal region? Here are a few great exercises to define your abs so they are ready for public display:

Front Plank

This is a great exercise that works both the abdominal region, your erector spinae (back muscles that assist in core stability), and numerous intrinsic core muscles that assist in stability. Variations can include raising either one leg or one arm, or both!

Crunches

The major key to this exercise is to contract your abdominals. The best way I explain this to clients is to remember a time you laughed so hard your stomach muscles were sore. This is the feeling you want for each crunch. Another visual key is to think you are trying to lift an object with your stomach. This will help you activate your core more than your neck muscles during crunches.

Leg Raises

The key is to look at your feet while you do them, and only raise your legs to about 45˚ above the floor. Any higher and your hip flexors are activated – not your abs.

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