What’s the deal with belly fat? Men's Health Week 12-18 June 2017

Gillian Cooper
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It's often jokingly referred to as the 'spare tyre' but, unlike the vehicular kind, this one is much more likely to cause us trouble rather than get us out of it.
We're talking, of course, about belly fat which, between 12th and 18th June this year, forms the focus of Men's Health Week - the annual nationwide initiative aimed at promoting longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Tackling our bellies, say the organisers, is a good way to address all three of those aspirations. It’s because excess weight around our waist has been linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer to premature death.

"It's a problem because belly fat lurks not just beneath the surface but also gets down deep and surrounds your vital organs," explains the charity organising the event, The Men's Health Forum. Padding the space between them, it doesn't benignly 'cushion' our insides, but rather produces hormones and other substances that can seriously jeopardise the way our bodies function by disrupting their normal balance.

Diet, exercise and other simple lifestyle changes can, according to experts, dramatically reduce the problem, with benefits ranging from lower blood pressure to better cholesterol levels, as well as the body confidence that a leaner, healthier physique can bring.

So what's the most effective way to reclaim our waistline? Last year, the BBC's Trust Me I'm A Doctor team tried and tested four of the most popular methods on a group of 35 volunteers with belly measurements that put them in the danger zone for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Their experiments found that diet control produced the best results - simply reducing portion size and cutting out snacks between meals saw average waistlines reduce by 5cm (2in) in the space of six weeks. The ‘Eatwell Guide’ shows you the kinds of food we should be eating and suitable portion sizes to contribute to a healthy balanced diet. To download your guide, click here.   

However, exercise was also found to be beneficial. A group assigned daily sit-ups lost 2cm (0.8in) from their waistlines, although they didn't lose any weight overall, and nor did their general health improve significantly. Faring much better was a second group, tasked with increasing their daily step count and being generally more active throughout the day. While they didn't lose any fat, their health markers vastly improved.

Experts concluded that a combination of watching-what-you-eat and leading less sedentary lifestyles is optimum. Its advice is backed up by Men's Fitness magazine too. If their suggestions of gruelling workouts (spinning classes and high-intensity interval training) sound like too much, too soon, the publication has plenty more ideas. Try, for instance, incorporating the so-called "king of good carbs" - quinoa - into your diet, or other “fat-busting” foodstuffs like Greek yoghurt, broccoli, salmon or blueberries. Click here for a few recipes that can help boost your metabolism.

Can't live without your regular cup of tea? Switching to green tea could help you keep up the habit - but with additional health benefits. The magazine hails this particular hot beverage a "fat-melting, metabolism-fuelling cocktail", which is low in calories and rich in antioxidants. The latter can help "rev up" metabolism and encourage the breakdown of fat cells, particularly around our waists.

Finally, there's one more way: more sleep. Getting the recommended seven to eight hours per night not only helps your body recover from the previous day's activity, it also regulates the hormones responsible for hunger cues, so you're less likely suffer unhealthy cravings or fall victim to emotional eating the next day.

Whichever method, or combination of solutions, you choose to adopt, the risks of waistline weight gain is something we should all be more aware of. Visit www.menshealthforum.org.uk/mhw for more details about the campaign.

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