Simply stated, men and women need to hang on to a little bit of body fat to help make sure our heart pumps, skin stays smooth and hair stays shiny. Regardless of how fit we are or how diligently we watch what we eat, women will always need to carry more essential body fat than men. The reason being is mostly for reproductive reasons. That said, if we were just left with essential body fat, we’d look mighty lean. It’s the unnecessary body fat, the stuff that gives a Jello-like feel around the belly, butt, thighs, that we need to watch out for. Exactly where body fat distributes itself plays a huge role in our overall health.
While women may carry more body fat, they typically store it in the hips and thighs. Even though the pear-shaped figure may not be the most desirable body for women who are concerned about a skirt that’s suddenly tighter throughout their lower body, it’s a lot healthier than an ever-expanding waistline. When men gain weight, they tend to put in on in the midsection of their body. Excessive fat through the midsection has been associated with high blood pressure, high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. According to a recent Harvard study, 427 healthy men between 17 and 90 found that in each decade of adult life, the body fat of sedentary men increased 17 percent and the waist circumference 2 percent; regular exercise, though, reduced fat accumulation to just 3 percent per decade and held the mid-body bulge to just 1 percent per decade.
So what works and does not work when it comes to minimizing abdominal fat?
- Does NOT Work: Sit ups and other abdominal strengthening exercises. Yes, these exercises do help strengthen the muscles that are lying under the layers of fat, but it won’t reduce the stuff that rests on top.
- Does Work: Consistent regular exercise several times each week (anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes) has a positive impact on reducing not only abdominal body fat, but high blood pressure and cholesterol, too! Make sure you combine strength training with cardiovascular activity.
- Does NOT Work: Store bought fat burners. While the jury is still out about how effective over-the-counter fat-burning concoctions really are, they certainly can’t help you spot reduce and abs-only region. Use common sense here – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And of course, before reaching for a quick fix remedy from your drug store’s shelf, talk to your doctor.
- Does Work: Diet. Many of us simply eat too much, and responsibly cutting calories alone could make a big difference. Along with proper caloric intake, eating a balanced diet of protein, fat and carbs has a much greater impact on overall health.
- Does NOT Work: Fat-free diets. If you’re on a fat-free or minimal fat diet now, STOP! You will only gain body fat. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but you can’t food your body. At least 15% of the calories we consume should be from fat. Try to get it from a whole food source, like nuts, instead of a processed form, like and energy bar.
- Does Work: Healthy fats. Reassess where you’re getting your calories. If you’re still of the belief that low fat is the only way to eat, then you’re probably eating too many carbohydrates. Fats are an essential part of our diet and should be consumed regularly with every meal. Healthy fats, such as coconut oil, olive oil and fish oils (as a supplement) are an important component to staving off hunger and regulating blood sugar levels. The longer you feel satisfied, the less likely you are to go for the sweet stuff.