Spare tire, beer belly or middle-aged spread – whatever you want to call it – belly fat is a problem that affects a large number of men. But this is one instance where you do not want to be one of the crowd. Carrying excess weight – especially belly fat – can pose serious health risks.
The danger of belly fat
It is one thing to carry excess weight throughout the body but it’s another when it is concentrated in the abdominal area, also known as central obesity. When a man gains weight, it almost always accumulates in the belly area.
Excess body fat in the belly region disrupts the normal balance of hormones in the body
The problem with belly fat is that it’s not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin. The excess fat pounds stored as belly fat are located deep within the abdominal region in and around major organs like the liver and pancreas. This deeply stored fat has its own special name called visceral fat. Visceral fat is worse for your health than fat located anywhere else in the body. It is the type of fat that increases a man’s risk for certain chronic diseases.
How a man can tell if he has visceral fat
You may think you can tell if you have too much belly fat just by looking at your stomach. But a more conclusive way is to use a tape measure. Place the tape around the largest diameter of your belly – where a belt goes – to get an accurate measure. A man with a waist circumference 40 inches (101 centimeters) or greater has too much visceral fat and is putting his health at risk.
Three major health risks
Research has shown that fat cells, particularly abdominal fat cells, are biologically active. This excess body fat in the belly region disrupts the normal balance and functioning of various hormones in the body.
Scientists have learned that excess visceral fat pumps out immune system chemicals called cytokines that are thought to have a harmful effect on a cells’ ability to absorb insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. This means the body’s muscle and liver cells are not responding adequately to normal levels of insulin – the hormone the pancreas secretes whenever blood glucose rises and the key to ensuring glucose passes from the bloodstream and into the cells. When glucose is unable to do this, glucose levels in the blood continue to rise, heightening the risk of diabetes.
2. Heart disease
It is well-known that carrying too much weight in the central abdominal area is linked to heart disease but a study has shown that an increase in waist size also hurts the functioning of the heart’s left ventricle. The left ventricle is one of the heart’s four chambers and is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to tissue throughout the body. It’s the heart’s main pumping chamber. An abnormality in the left ventricle is a common cause of heart disease including congestive heart failure.
Excess visceral fat can also lead to a higher risk for developing high blood pressure.
3. Erectile dysfunction
One way excess belly fat influences a man’s sex life is by decreasing the amount of blood that flows to the penis. An erection occurs when the blood vessels leading to the penis dilate, causing it to fill with blood. The penis must store blood in order to keep an erection. Therefore, a man’s ability to develop and maintain a penile erection depends on the health of his vascular system.
A man’s ability to a penile erection depends on the health of his vascular system
Another factor affecting his health is the endothelium – the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of all blood vessels. If the endothelium is damaged by excess belly fat, it may not release enough nitric oxide – a molecule that signals the surrounding muscles to relax in order for the blood vessels to dilate and create an erection.
Carrying excess weight can also affect erectile dysfunction by lowering testosterone levels. Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men and plays an important role in libido and sexual function.
How to reduce belly fat
Reducing waist size is imperative to reducing your risk of chronic health conditions. It won’t happen overnight but the sooner you begin working on losing your belly fat, the sooner you lower your chance of developing heart disease. Here are some ways you can reduce your waist size:
- Eat regular nutritious meals – Avoid skipping meals and keep mealtimes as consistent as possible. This reduces the hunger pangs which lead you to crave high-calorie, convenience foods such as chips, sweets, or other foods and beverages high in fat, sugar, and calories. Going no more than four hours without eating helps stabilize blood sugars and keeps your metabolism running smoothly.
- Keep portion sizes in check – Even when making healthy choices, calories can add up. Following the MyPlate method is a good way to ensure you are eating a balanced meal. Under this method, half of the plate is vegetables, one-fourth is a lean protein and the other one-fourth is a healthy starch or whole grain.
- Replace sugary beverages – Drink water or unsweetened tea instead of soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, lemonade, or any other drink with sugar in it.
- Limit alcohol intake – It’s not that beer or any other beverage containing alcohol can turn a trim waistline into a beer belly. Any kind of calories – whether from alcohol, sugary beverage, or oversized portions of food – can increase belly fat. However, alcohol intake is associated with bigger waists, because when you drink alcohol, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat. Also, a typical beer contains 150 calories and if a man downs several in one sitting, that’s a serious calorie overload. And don’t forget calories from food men use to wash down with alcohol – pizza, wings, and other fried foods. It all adds up very quickly.
- Focus on 30 grams of fiber daily – Choose more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans. These foods are full of fiber, taking longer to digest and making you feel fuller for longer. Aim to eat at least two fruits, two vegetables and a small handful of nuts each day and use beans in at least one meal a day.
- Exercise regularly – Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Break this into 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. The greater the frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity, the more weight you will lose, particularly in the abdominal area.