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Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019


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Abdominal fat can be dangerous

Belly fat, beer gut, the “middle-aged spread” – whatever the term, it plagues many of us during our middle years and often gets worse as we age. Extra pounds already tend to accumulate during the aging process, but what are the risks of those packing those pounds on our midsections? And how in the world do we get rid of it?

Abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, can be very dangerous. This type of fat is metabolically active, meaning it releases fatty acids and inflammatory agents and disrupts the function and balance of our hormones, which can lead to higher blood pressure, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Excess abdominal fat has been linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder issues and breast cancer. In addition to the metabolic stress belly fat can put on our body, it also puts pressure on our abdominal organs, including the liver, kidneys, and stomach.

If you tend to accumulate belly fat, there is good news. This type of fat tends to yield readily to diet and exercise, meaning it can be the easiest to lose compared to other types of body fat. Subcutaneous fat, also known as the “pinchable” fat, is less harmful to our health but often much more difficult to lose than abdominal fat. The best way to lose excess belly fat is to start moving. Moderate-intensity physical activity, meaning at least 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart pumping, leads to a healthy weight and reduced abdominal fat.

Add strength training to this routine for even more benefits. Keep in mind that spotreducing, such as doing crunches and situps, does not get rid of abdominal fat. These exercises are great for tightening muscles, but there is no one exercise that eliminates a certain type of fat. A total lifestyle change is key to working toward reducing belly fat. If you’re wondering which exercises are best suited for you, remember that the best exercise you can do is one you enjoy. If you like to dance, try an aerobics or a linedancing class. If you prefer to walk, grab a friend and start a routine of walking together in the evenings. Every exercise has its own benefits, and the important part is that you get moving.

Diet is also very important on your journey toward curbing belly fat. Portion sizes play a significant role in keeping a healthy weight. To ensure you are keeping your portions in check, eat your meals on no larger than a nine-inch plate, pre-portion your snacks, and use measuring cups to determine the amounts of foods you put on your plate. When eating out, share a dish with a friend or take at least half of your meal home for leftovers instead of eating the entire dish in one sitting. Choose lean proteins instead of fatty meats, complex carbohydrates in place of refined grains, and incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables in every meal. Instead of reaching for soft drinks, try drinking unsweetened tea or water instead. Every step you take in eating a healthier diet is a step toward a healthier body.

For some of us, genetics largely influence where we store our fat. Some of us are apples, meaning we store our fat around our abdominal area, while some are pears, storing fat in our lower body. Or, we may fall somewhere in between. For those who are apple-shaped, it can be even more important to monitor weight. It’s easy to get discouraged when we try to live a healthy lifestyle solely for our image, which is why it’s useful to remind ourselves of the benefits to our bodies. Reducing belly fat isn’t just for appearance; it’s for our health and prevention of disease. (This article was reviewed by Janie Horne, dietetic intern from Louisiana Tech University.)

Abigail McAlister is an assistant extension agent (general nutrition) for the LSU AgCenter. Her main focus is adult nutrition education and promotion in Caddo and Bossier parishes. She can be reached at amcalister@agcenter.lsu.edu.


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