When it comes to the battle of the bulge, the dreaded spare tire is one of the biggest areas of complaint. Not only is belly fat harder to hide, for many people, it’s also harder to lose.
And as the years pass, what you want flat and toned is instead jiggly and wobbly – an inevitable part of aging. But is it actually? Is a bigger belly just an unavoidable outcome? Is there any way to burn belly fat?
Yes, say researchers at Harvard University, and it’s all in the way you work out. In a new study published in the journal Obesity, they found that daily weight training minimized the increase of age-related abdominal fat more than aerobic exercise alone.
The researchers followed 10,500 healthy U.S. men age 40 and over, participants of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1996-2008), and tracked their body weight, physical activity, and waist circumference. The sample group covered a wide range of BMI (body mass index).
“To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise.”
They analyzed the data collected over the 12-year period, comparing the changes in the men’s physical activity levels to see which activities had the greatest effect on the men’s waistlines.
Results showed that men who increased weight training time by 20 minutes a day gained about a quarter of an inch less on their waistline compared with men who increased their daily aerobic exercise yard work or stair climbing.
Not surprisingly, the participants who increased sedentary behaviors, like watching TV, gained more inches on their waistline.
Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the study’s senior author, said, “This study underscores the important of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly.”
“To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise,” he concluded.
The Bottom Line
Abdominal fat isn’t just unsightly; it’s associated with increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. And between sarcopenia, the process where we begin to lose muscle mass starting around 30, and decreased estrogen levels in women, body fat shifting to the belly seems like an inevitable conclusion. But while the Harvard study examined the benefits of weight training for men, the results underscore the importance of incorporating weight training with aerobic exercise in women, too.
Many women focus solely on aerobic exercises (“cardio”) to stay in shape; they avoid weight training, fearing that they will bulk up and become too muscular. But it’s a myth that weight training will instantly turn you into a body builder. Instead, it will help you preserve muscle mass over time and help you increase your metabolism. Lean muscle mass burns more calories at rest than fat mass, allowing you to torch more calories and maintain your body weight.
If you want to enhance the effects further, you may want to pump those weights in a warm gym. A new study shows that exercising in warmer temperatures could aid dieting willpower. Researchers found that walkers consumed significantly more calories, and in particular, more carbohydrates after they had been walking in the cold than when they strolled in a more temperate room. Those who exercised in the cold had higher blood levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. However, there was little change in ghrelin levels after the warmer exercise.
And just in case you’re wondering where all of that fat loss goes, a new study indicates that it’s not converted into energy or heat – you just breathe it out as carbon dioxide! So if you’re looking to ditch that spare tire, pick up some weights and work those muscles and lungs!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.