Carrying extra weight around isn’t just a drag during swimsuit season. It can also be dangerous, especially if those excess pounds find their way to your belly and not, say, your hips. Recent studies indicate that abdominal fat is metabolically different from the other fat in your body: As you gain padding around your middle, the individual cells swell, and their size is linked to higher triglyceride levels and lower good cholesterol.
The best treatment for belly fat? Signing up for Weight Watchers isn’t enough; you’re going to have to pry yourself off the couch too. New research shows that diet and exercise together reduce the size of abdominal fat cells, which doesn’t happen if you lose weight through dieting alone. Working out regularly also has a ripple effect on the body: Not only do dangerous pounds come off, but your muscles become more efficient at using blood; your heart gets stronger; and your blood vessels become more limber, so blood flows more easily.
And you don’t have to run a marathon every week to get these benefits. Cardiologists recommend an average of 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day, which has been shown to increase life expectancy by 3 1/2 years. Whether walking, running, or swimming, you should aim to work your heart to about 50 to 70 percent of its maximum rate. Even this amount of exercise is powerful enough to combat other high-risk factors: A study out of the Cooper Institute in Dallas found that even moderately fit people had half the death rates of those who were sedentary.
While doctors used to think that weight training was bad for the heart because it increased blood pressure, research now shows it can actually lower blood pressure when transforming fat into muscle, which burns calories and keeps them from landing on your belly. This is why strengthening exercises, two or three times a week for all the major muscle groups — arms, legs, shoulders, chest, back, hips, and trunk is advised. Pilates- or yoga-based regimen that zeroes in on the core muscles of your abdomen and lower back can also be done. Either way, consistency is key, as is starting young. regular strengthening can not only help prevent age-related loss of bone and muscle mass, but also help reduce body fat and improve endurance, both of which can decrease your risk of heart disease.
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