By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer
Most people, when they are self-conscious of getting a bulging belly, take a deep breath in front of the mirror to conceal it. During your youth the problem would not be visible, and workouts in the gym with emphasis on stomach exercises avert these bulges. One would like to show off, as most bodybuilders do, the cross demarcations (striations) to reveal their muscular rectus muscles, as seen in the picture. As you grow older with change of lifestyles, affluence and diminished physical activities, you would experience the belly protruding more prominently and becoming flabby, an inevitable occurrence, whether you indulge in extreme consumption of food, or otherwise.
Has genetics got to do anything with it? The answer is, yes and no. Short people seem to be getting the bulge earlier and their body shape could be the replica of the old bloke. Taller people do get it, but it would be less apparent during their early stages.
There is more to belly fat than what you see. Fat under the skin, thin or very thick layered (subcutaneous) is not visible, and the rest is within the abdominal cavity, referred to as visceral fat.
Most of the ladies find their fat distributed in the tummy, more under the skin, sometimes referred to as pear shaped tummy, hanging like aprons that can be eradicated surgically. Ladies store fat in their thighs, calves, arms and buttocks, mainly under the skin and such fat can be reduced through suction.
Not all fat is the same. It is the fat in the tummy areas that concerns cardiologists. Again, it is not the fat that is revealed by the "pinch test" but the fat within (intra-abdominal) or visceral fat that is the concern because it may make the heart ill. A man's waist line (circumference) should be less than 40 inches, and a woman's should be less than 35 inches. Studies have revealed that measurements over these limits may link with heart disease.
As you gain weight, mainly due to over-eating and lethargic life style, you may gain both subcutaneous and visceral fat. Women under 50 years seem to accumulate fat under the skin (pear shape), and after menopause they get more visceral fat. Men less than 50 years tend to store more visceral fat (apple shape).
Visceral fat and exercise
Though many people are self-conscious about the fat that is visible under the skin, research shows that hidden fat poses the bigger threats. Fat doesn't just sit idle. It acts like an organ that secretes substances, says Kristen Hairston, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Visceral fat provides necessary cushioning around organs, but, according to Hairston, it secretes 'lots of nasty substances' that can be absorbed by the neighboring organs.
These chemicals released from visceral fat may release inflammatory compounds that can lead to insulin resistance and some cancers.
Excess visceral fat is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancers of the breast, colon, and endometrium.
Visceral or subcutaneous fat
So, irrespective of whether you have excess infiltration of visceral fat or having it minimum, you can be prone to have a bulging belly though you have a healthy weight. In this situation, you may complain that you find it impossible to reduce the belly. With exercises the belly muscles may get firmer but the bulging profile never changes due to the shortened spine caused due to ageing. However, overweight persons with much visceral fat may be able to reduce their belly by exercising and extremely restricting diets for long periods.
How to reduce visceral fat?
Vigorous exercise includes jogging, for fit people and brisk walking for an hour daily for less active people. Workouts at the gym also will help. Most people at the gym more often complain that their bellies do not get flattened even after years of gym workouts.It is observed that those who underwent open heart surgery and come home recently with a flattened belly and gross weight loss. By continuing the diets they took while they were in the hospitals once they returned home, they can avert regaining bulging bellies. There aren't any specific diets recommended to reduce visceral and subcutaneous fat.
Although it takes aerobic activity to burn abdominal fat, core exercises can strengthen and tone the underlying muscles.
Belly fat and diabetes
Sri Lankan ladies too don't seem to worry about bellies, as hiding behind the saree gives them adequate confidence. Only those sun lovers, rare in the Island, worry about their body shape since they have to fit into slim bikini clothing.
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