Americans’ waistlines continue to expand with 43 percent of men and 64 percent of women now in the Abdominal Obesity Danger Zone. If that’s where you are, you’re at serious risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia and other big health problems. And now, another new report says a normal weight plus a belly pooch is a lot more deadly than simply being overweight.
When Mayo Clinic researchers checked the waist sizes, weight and health histories of 15,184 Americans, they found that those with “weight central obesity” were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who were overweight or obese but didn’t have that excess belly fat. And they were 87 percent more likely to have fatal heart disease than people with a normal weight and flatter bellies.
If your jeans zipper won’t shut or you’ve moved to a wardrobe full of elastic-waist pants, listen up: Excess belly fat pumps inflammation-fueling substances directly into your bloodstream and sends excess fat to your liver, kidneys and other internal organs.
Research shows that getting rid of deep belly fat reduces blood pressure, lowers lousy LDL cholesterol and improves the way your body processes blood sugar. Here’s how.
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▪ Measure your middle: Just before or after your next shower, grab a tape measure and shut the bathroom door. Wrap the tape around your bare torso at your belly button. Make sure the tape’s tight -- and suck in your gut. This strategy truly measures abdominal fat (it’s not the same as measuring your waist size for clothing!) according to the National Institutes of Health. If your belly’s bigger than 35 inches for women, 40 for men, you’re harboring deep abdominal fat -- not just the “pinch an inch” kind that’s just below the surface of your skin. Of course, the ideal waist size won’t be the same for a woman who’s 5-feet-11-inches tall and her best friend who’s 5-foot-1. A general goal some experts recommend: Your waist should be less than half your height in inches.
▪ Target belly fat with your feet: If you’re not getting 30 minutes of planned walking a day, start now. And head for a total of 10,000 steps a day (all steps count). If you’re already active, try adding higher-intensity intervals to your workout: Go a little faster for 20 seconds, then move at your normal pace for a minute. Repeat several times, adding more intervals as your fitness improves. High-intensity training can speed up belly-fat loss. Add two 20-minute strength-training sessions, too. You’ll build more muscle, which in turn will blast more fat. (Crunches and sit-ups, meanwhile, will tone your abdominal muscles, but won’t burn belly fat.)
▪ Skip waist-widening sips and snacks. Research shows that overindulging in alcohol or a regular soda habit can add inches to your waistline. Processed sweets and snacks do it too. Go for fiber-rich fruit and vegetable snacks instead. Include calcium from low-fat or fat-free dairy or a dairy alternative like almond milk; getting enough calcium may protect against belly fat.
▪ More sleep, less stress. Getting less than five hours’ sleep per night promotes the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which packs fat into your midsection. Getting good exercise will help you sleep eight hours a night.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Get daily tips from the docs at IdahoStatesmancom/docs