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A man and his belly

by Sonia Chartier, on 6 September 2017, Men's Health
belly

The infamous beer belly. We all know it, dread it and want it to go away. Whether or not you’re a beer drinker, you’ve probably noticed that fat has an annoying habit of accumulating under your belt.

But there’s more to it than the esthetics and the popping pants buttons: a big belly is synonymous with health risks.

First, if you buckle your belt below your belly, you’re probably going to expose your butt cleavage. And if you buckle it higher, you just won’t be able to close your pants at all! Maybe you should start shopping for pants with an elastic waistband—after all, it works for pregnant women! Joking aside, you should know that belly fat is more hazardous to your health than other types of body fat. When fat is superficial and you can pinch it, it’s referred to as subcutaneous fat. The problem with big bellies is that they’re invariably loaded with visceral fat, the kind that’s inside the abdominal cavity, surrounding your organs and preventing them from functioning effectively. And that fat increases the risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Sleep apnea
  • Premature death (regardless of cause)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Why is belly fat so dangerous?

Visceral fat secretes toxins that affect how the body functions. One of these toxins, called cytokine, is an inflammatory substance that reduces insulin sensitivity—diabetes alert!—and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. A link has even been established between visceral fat and colon, esophageal and pancreatic cancers. And that’s no small potatoes, even if it just looks like you’ve eaten way too many.

How can you determine if your belly’s too big?

Wrap a measuring tape around your waist just above your iliac crest—another name for the top of your hip bone—and keep the tape level all the way around. Don’t tighten it as you measure. Exhale and don’t cheat by sucking in your gut. Note the measurement.

A result of over 40 inches (102 cm) means that you have too much belly fat and that your daily caloric intake exceeds your needs. In other words, you’re taking in more energy than you’re burning. What you need to do is modify your diet and increase your energy expenditure. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard!

Food and drink

Take some time to analyze your plate:

  • Half of it should be made up of a variety of vegetables and fruits—and no, fries don’t count
  • A quarter of your plate should consist of grains: brown rice, or whole grain pasta or bread
  • The remaining quarter (yes, just a quarter!) should contain a lean protein source: fish, poultry, pulses or nuts
  • Fat is essential, but it has to be the right kind: olive oil is a good example. Avoid butter and trans fats. Avocados and salmon are excellent sources of good fats.
  • Drink water, water, and while you’re at it, more water. It’s also okay to have a little coffee or tea without sugar, one or two portions of milk or a small glass of pure fruit juice. Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks a day if you’re 65 or under, and one a day after your 65th birthday party. Alcoholic beverages offer few if any benefits, and they’re loaded with calories.

A diet rich in fibre prevents constipation and helps eliminate toxins. Some bitter plants aid digestion and can be especially beneficial when you change your eating habits. Your intestinal flora is another part of your digestion that is often overlooked and needs to be taken into account. A healthy flora helps you absorb nutrients better, while keeping you regular.

Get moving!

You’ve no doubt heard that you’re supposed to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. It’s true, but not enough. You could start running half-marathons, but the most recent findings have demonstrated that the most effective way to burn calories is to do short bursts of intense exercise—it’s called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—which are easy to work into a busy schedule. This can mean doing a few sets of chin-ups or push ups for 30 seconds at a time, or doing what’s called Tabata training, which is where you do eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off intervals.

To do that, you need to add resistance training (or use weights) at least twice a week to build muscle mass. The advantage of having big biceps or quadriceps is that muscles burn calories faster than fat does, and muscles continue burning calories even after you’ve finished exercising.

Start with a few simple new habits:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator (if you work on the 39th floor, you can get off the elevator earlier than usual)
  • Get up from your chair every hour to stretch your legs and move around a bit
  • Take a small walk during your lunch break (and make sure to take a lunch break!)
  • Instead of plunking yourself down in front of the TV when you get home, get out and get moving
  • Walk or cycle to the corner store

Sleep and relax

Finally, something that doesn’t take too much effort! Pretend you’re sleeping beauty and get enough sleep, at least six to eight hours a night. Lack of sleep often goes hand in hand with a rounder belly. Plus, when you lack sleep, you’ll be more likely to eat more to make up for your flagging energy levels.

For the sake of your health and well-being, lose your belly and keep your butt cleavage under wraps—for everyone’s sake!

References:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/belly-fat/art-20045685?pg=1
http://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/the-risks-of-belly-fat#1
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/translations/french_canada/

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