"Many people are confused about what belly fat actually is," says Dr. Jampolis. "It is the fat located deeper inside the belly that causes a beer belly type of appearance (or apple shape, as it is often called). This type of fat is dangerous because it leads to inflammation and insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and more."
The skinny on belly fat
The heavier you are, the more likely you are to have a "spare tire." Gaining weight in the abdomen has a genetic component as well. If Mom was an "apple," you're more likely to be one too. As you age, muscle mass begins to decrease, metabolism slows and loss of estrogen can change how the body distributes fat. Even if you're not technically overweight, having a larger waist measurement may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Food for fitness
Before you can start losing belly fat, however, you need to get rid of the idea that you can whittle it away by itself. "There's no such thing as a special diet or special exercise to target belly fat," says trainer Jennifer Cohen, a co-author of "Strong is the New Skinny: How to Eat, Live, and Move to Maximize Your Power." "You have to reduce your entire body fat percentage and be very proactive about the food you put into your body.
Exercise is good, but your first exercise needs to start in your kitchen. "If you can't grow it, don't eat it," she adds. "I never say no sugar, no bread ever, but you have to moderate. And if you are going to eat it, choose a better version, like multigrain bread or sweet potatoes." Dr. Jampolis says studies have shown that slightly more protein and fewer carbohydrates, especially refined "white" carbohydrates that lack fiber, can help decrease belly fat in women, especially as they age. "Studies show that consuming at least three servings of whole grains per day can help decrease belly fat, so I encourage my patients to make most or all of their grains whole grains," she says.
"Eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables is also important as they are loaded with phytonutrients that help fight inflammation. Nuts and seeds (and other healthy fats like avocado and olive oil) play a role in reducing inflammation and reducing blood sugar, which can help make it easier to get rid of belly fat."
Fight flab actively
While the battle of the bulge may begin in the kitchen, it should continue in the gym, or anywhere you can get active. "Both cardio and strength training are critical," says Dr. Jampolis. "Research shows that exercise, even without weight loss, can improve insulin resistance, which can help reduce belly fat. In addition, studies show that combining exercise and strength training helps reduce belly fat more than either alone."
Cohen encourages her female clients to do weight training or to increase the intensity of their current weight training. This helps retain or increase lean muscle mass, which leads to burning more calories and speeding up the metabolism.
"People, especially women, tend to be very cardio-centric when it comes to working out," says Cohen. "Any activity is good activity, but strength training becomes so crucial as you grow older to improve not only your overall body fat percentage but your mental health and your posture. Good posture is very important when we spend so much time in front of a computer; it will also help keep your abs tucked and strong."
Interval training, which incorporates short bursts of intense activity with lighter activity, can also be helpful, says Dr. Jampolis. For example, several times during a walk, try breaking into a jog or run.
St. Luke’s Hospital is an independent, nonprofit healthcare provider committed to improving the quality of life for its patients and the community. In its 150-year history, St. Luke’s has grown from a single hospital location to an advanced network of care. It provides personalized healthcare services in over 60 specialty areas at its 493-bed hospital in Chesterfield, Mo. and offers 25 other locations across the greater St. Louis area, bringing quality healthcare services close to home. St. Luke’s is nationally-recognized for quality care and consistently earns high patient satisfaction scores. In addition, St. Luke’s is the exclusive St. Louis affiliate of the nation’s No. 1 heart hospital, Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute. For more information, visit stlukes-stl.com.
"In the Sproutlight" is a sponsored opportunity. For more information on sponsorship, e-mail [email protected] or call 636-828-4246.