November 11, 2010 | by Kevin M. Norris
Admonitions for abs

Excess belly fat isn't just unattractive — it brings a bounty of health risks with it.

Carrying extra weight, especially belly fat, can be risky. While belly fat is more common in men, having extra weight around the middle for anyone can come with a host of health risks.

Men are generally shaped like apples and women like pears. Added weight tends to rear its ugly head in the belly of men much more than women.

Nonetheless, excess weight on men or women, even as little as 10 pounds, comes with a price and several potential health risks. Wider girths are more likely to have excess amounts of deep-hidden belly fat around their organs. This fat is often considered the most dangerous of all types of fat.

Generally, men whose waists exceed 40 inches and women who exceed 35 inches are at the greatest risk of developing health problems. George Blackburn, associate director of the division of nutrition at Harvard Medical School likens it to falling off the edge of a cliff.

From lower back pain and structural imbalances to high blood pressure, extra pounds can mean unnecessary health problems that can be alleviated with some essential guidelines.

Potential risks include heart disease, cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, low lipoprotein (“good” cholesterol), metabolic syndrome and sleep apnea.

How do you get rid of belly fat? It’s a long, arduous process and it takes a systematic and consistent approach. Attaining washboard abs is another story. A very small percentage of people will actually be able to develop washboard abs and grace the cover of a magazine. Those select few have to work extremely hard at maintaining the perfect body, but equally important is that they have genetics on their side.

However, there is no magic bullet, diet plan, specific food or type of exercise that specifically targets belly fat. But the good news is belly fat is the first kind of fat you tend to lose when you lose weight.

Not everyone will develop washboard abs, but with the right methodologies, lower body fat and a flat stomach is possible.

Other professionals advise eating a healthy, controlled-calorie diet and regular exercise. About 60 minutes a day of moderate activity, such as brisk walking, is advised.

However, hundreds of crunches each day won’t flatten your belly if you need to lose weight. If your abdominal muscles aren’t covered with excess fat, strengthening them can help you look tighter and thinner. But spot exercises won’t banish belly fat.

And the harder you exercise, the more belly fat you may lose. Jensen suggests that people who engage in high-intensity aerobic exercise tend to be leaner around the abdomen.

Other factors to consider:

Reduce calories. Reduce your portion sizes. Replace your usual fare with healthy foods that contain fewer calories.

Maintain a diet low in refined carbohydrates. Stick to complex carbohydrates and avoid excess sugar. Also, get adequate protein to build and repair muscle and fiber to make you feel full.

Increase physical activity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, in addition to strength training. You may need to do more to lose weight and keep it off.

Also, remember to alternate your workouts between cardiovascular activity and weight training. Creating muscles makes the body more metabolically active and will exhaust more calories and lead to greater weight loss.

Consume enough water to flush out toxins and harmful chemicals in your body and keep hydrated. Drink a minimum of eight, 8 ounce glasses per day.

After you shed excess pounds, maintain your weight loss with a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

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