27 MAY, 2013

Does a belly conceal health risks?

For many of us, body fat is an undesired part of ourselves, of which, either for health reasons or aesthetic reasons, we wish to get rid. Others have come to terms with the idea of a «belly» and do not attempt a weight or fat loss diet. But really, what is fat? Or, as it is referred to in the medical field, adipose tissue? Is it something that should concern us, is it something bad for us or should we just get used to it?

Many view body fat as a negative, but fat is an essential and necessary ingredient of the human body. It exists in two depots, or storage, in our body. The first depot, is known as essential fat, and it consists of what exists in main organs such as bone marrow, heart, lungs, intestines, muscle and fat-rich tissue of the central nervous system. The other large depot, is know as stored fat and it consists of the fat that accumulates and is stored in fat depots. It is stored in our stomach and generally in our abdominal region surrounding vital organs, buttoms, arms etc. This fat is a very important energy source, however, when it is in excess (especially in the abdominal area), attention is necessary. Then, beyond the aesthetic problems it may cause, it may also be an indication that the body’s good health is in jeopardy.

According to specialists, abdominal fat is a risk factor concerning serious health problems, such as, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and respitory problems to name a few. Aside from the greater health risks, there are day-to-day problems that also arise after the appearance of a belly, such as fatigue, snoring and even sleep apnea. The emergence of such problems is not the same in all individuals and can differ based on the body fat percentage, gender, age and each individual’s strengths. In fact, women, due to hormonal termperaments, typically experience problems after menopause.

The question that arises is how much body fat should we have, especially abdominal fat, and how do we accurately measure it? The asnwer to the first question varies depending on gender, age and the level of physical activity. An average value follows in the table below:


FEMALE  20 – 39  < 21 %  21 – 32.9 %  33 – 38.9 %     > 39 %
  40 – 59  < 23 %  23 – 33,9 %  34 – 39,9 %     > 40%
  60 – 79  < 24 %  24 – 35,9 %  36 –  41,9 %     > 42 %
MALE  20 – 39  <  8 %  8 – 19,9 %  20 –  24,9 %     > 25 %
  40 – 59  < 11 %  11 – 21,9 %  22 – 27,9 %     > 28 %
  60 – 79  < 13 %  13 – 24.9 %  25 – 29,9 %     > 30 %


Of the above values, approximately 80% of our fat is typically stored fat (and part of that in the abdnominal area.) One can measure their body fat through a variety of different body fat measurement techniques that either measure the total body fat or by area – how the body fat is distributed on your body. A simple way to at least get an idea of your abdominal fat is to easily and quickly measure your waist with a plain measuring tape. If your waist (the thinnest part) is larger than 80 cm for women and 94 cm for men, then there is increased risk of cardiovascular problems, and according to specialists, you certainly must lose weight.

Weight loss is a the main way of addressing abdominal fat. A proper diet along with regular physical activity are the perfect combination to create, the so-called, negative energy balance in the body.  This means that one would increase daily activity and simultaneously decrease their caloric intake. Then, our body, in order to find the energy to cover its needs, will burn the excess, stored fat. The good news is that visceral (abdominal) fat is the first respondent when the body is in need of stored fat to burn and it is metabollically active, i.e. the belly is the first area that usually disappears when doing exercise while we are following a weight loss regiment.

All the above indicate that abdominal fat, at varying degrees, is a serious issue that must be addressed. Proper diet and systematic physical activity are the ideal blend for addressing this insidious enemy, but perhaps most importantly, for preventing its appearance.

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