“Pinch an Inch”:
In the body, fat is not just fat. It’s all about location, location, location. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Obesity Prevention Source, having large hips and a padded butt does not have the same health risks as a portly potbelly.
Apples vs Pears
Although an apple a day may be healthy, being apple-shaped is not. Apple-shaped people who store excess weight as belly fat have been found to suffer from more serious health problems because their internal organs are surrounded by fat tissue. Fat that is stored away from the internal organs (as in pear or avocado-shaped bodies) seems to be less harmful because it is less likely to “trigger a cascade of metabolic disturbances,” according to a study published in the February 8, 2013 issue of PlosOne science journal. Hormones that are released by adipose tissue (fat) also have less direct access to the central circulation when the adipose is stored away from the organs.
Abdominal obesity is part of the metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X, which is a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The “conditions” include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and a high level of abdominal fat. If one or more of these conditions are treated, for example if you decrease your abdominal fat or take medicine to control blood pressure and blood sugar levels, then the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes is diminished. Some physicians feel that these diseases can even be cured by losing abdominal fat (see “The China Study,” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and the documentary, Forks Over Knives).
How to Judge the Pudge Factor
Measuring abdominal fat is not that easy. The “pinch an inch” method (a term that means you shouldn’t be able to pinch more than an inch of fat anywhere on your body) is often used by those who struggle with body image. Skin fold measurement by trained professionals with calipers can be useful in tracking weight loss. But it is slightly more accurate in men than women, and it does not give a true picture of the fat inside the abdominal cavity—it only takes into account the fat stored under the skin. Another way to gauge abdominal obesity is to create a ratio of waist to hip circumference. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. Anything below 0 .8 means that you have a low risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Studies have shown that waist circumference measurement is just as accurate as waist to hip ratio measurement in women, when quantified with MRI images. However, waist measurement alone is more accurate than waist to hip ratio in men. Therefore, for ease of use, waist circumference measurement can be a good predictor of abdominal fat. Note that only ultrasound, CT and MRI can give a clear image of visceral adipose tissue (VAT).
Whittle Your Middle
The reason fat is deposited in the abdomen versus the hips may very well be hormone-related (or at least gender-related). But studies have shown that certain external factors or behaviors can affect the amount of fat stored in specific locations. For example, snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods (like potato chips and soda or pizza and beer), getting less than five hours or more than eight hours of sleep (in those younger than 40 years old), and stress, which activates cortisol (the “stress hormone”) all have been shown to play a role in body fat distribution. Specifically, if you eat three balanced meals a day and avoid unhealthy snacking, manage stress triggers, and sleep seven hours a night, you may be able to avoid storing excess fat in the abdomen.
Though scientists confirm that no amount of crunches will melt the pounds off your six pack, they have examined the effects of types of exercise on belly fat deposits. Cardiovascular, aerobic exercise has been shown to be more beneficial than resistance training in abdominal fat loss. To keep the results concise, the studies did not include the effects of diet control combined with exercise. The more intense the activity, the more fat levels were reduced around the internal organs. Post exercise energy expenditure and fat oxidation, which routinely occur after hard exercise, may contribute to the effectiveness of high intensity exercise in reducing abdominal fat.
A good start to the New Year would be to incorporate aerobics into your exercise regimen. Jumping rope, rowing, skating, swimming, jogging, cycling, stair climbing, skiing, dancing and even walking are all aerobic. High intensity bursts can be effective too, such as box jumps and sprints. The Total Gym squat stand, CycloTrainer and STEP attachments all can be used for aerobic exercise to help boost metabolism and benefit your health. Start with 30 minutes of interval training three times a week, working your way up to five days a week, using the heart rate training method and watch your belly shrink.