Battling the Belly Bulge

Sports Woman's legs in running movement

Being overweight comes with many health risks. But if you carry more weight around your waist you may be at a higher risk for weight-related health problems. This is true even if your body mass index, or BMI, is in a normal or healthy range. For this reason it’s a good idea to pay attention to your waist when you’re trying to decide if you’re at a healthy weight.

What does too much weight at your middle mean for your health? This may mean that you have more visceral fat. This type of fat surrounds the liver, intestines, and other organs. Also, this type of fat is active and makes hormones and other substances. This can lead to inflammation and a higher risk for the following health problems:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher risk for some types of cancer
  • Dementia

To find out if you have too much belly fat, you can measure your waist. To do so, place a tape measure around the narrowest point of your waist. This is most often just below your rib cage and just above the top of your hip bones. If there is no clear narrowing of your waist, measure at the level of your navel. Breathe out and then measure the distance around your waist. Lay the tape measure against your skin. Don’t pull it tight or let it press your skin down.

If your waist measurement is higher than what is recommended, than you may be at a higher risk for weight-related health problems. For most people, healthy waist measurements are as follows:

  • Women: 35 inches or less
  • Men: 40 inches or less

If you are of Asian descent, your numbers are as follows:

  • Women: 31 inches or less
  • Men: 35 inches or less

Another way to find out if you have too much belly fat is with the waist-to-hip ratio. To find this, measure your waist, then stand with your feet together and measure your hips at the fullest part. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. A healthy ratio is below 0.85 for women and below 0.9 for men.

You may think that the best exercises to help you lose belly fat would be crunches or sit-ups. These exercises can tone your stomach muscles. But they probably won’t get rid of the fat. The best way to get rid of belly fat is the same way you get rid of fat any place on your body—through diet and exercise.

It’s best to do both aerobic exercise and strength training. Aerobic activities include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. Getting active in this way works your heart and lungs and burns calories. Strength training includes lifting weights, using resistance bands, and doing body weight exercises, like pushups and squats. Getting active in this way helps build muscle, which burns more calories than fat. If you haven’t been active in a while or have any health concerns, check with your doctor before you get active again or start a new exercise program. Your doctor may suggest exercises that are best for you and your health.

It’s also important to make healthy food choices. Focus on eating lots of fruits and veggies, as well as whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Try to cut back on processed foods, sugar, and red meat. Also, watch your portions and try not to overeat.

Getting more active and making healthier food choices may help you lose weight, including that stubborn belly fat. And that can help improve your health.