Beer Belly Blues

That belly fat you are wearing can actually kill you

By Barbara Pierce

Besides being pretty unsexy, belly fat can be more of a health risk than you think, cautioned Joe Martin.

Belly fat is that unattractive, puffed-out bulge around our middle that seems to grow as we age. It is also known as a “beer gut.”

That stubborn fat just doesn’t go away, even when we lose weight. And, if you knew how it looks, you’d throw up.

The fat we can’t see is the nasty stuff. This hidden fat matters, Martin said.

Martin is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist, founder and CEO of Function Better Physical Therapy, with locations in Clinton, Herkimer, New Hartford, Oneida, Rome, Utica and Yorkville.

For some of us, this hidden fat matters very much indeed. It may be killing us.

“What’s really scary is that many people don’t realize it’s not the belly fat that we see that’s deadly. Under the fat that we can see is the deadly fat, which is called adipose tissue (or visceral fat), and it surrounds our organs,” said Martin.

It’s stored around a number of important internal organs, such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. It can be suffocating these organs and interfering with how they function.

The best way to tell if you have too much of it is to check your waistline. “The belly fat that you can see in the mirror — that fat, subcutaneous fat — is OK. It’s normal to have a little of it,” explained Martin. “But it’s the fat you can’t see that’s the issue. It’s a manufacturing center for a whole host of diseases and early death.”

It raises the risk for diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, even Alzheimer’s. It’s nasty stuff, this visceral fat.

Also, abdominal obesity is one of the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. When these occur together, it increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

So getting rid of your belly bulge is important for more than just vanity’s sake. “This information is straight from the medical journals,” Martin added.

Bane of aging

As we age, our body changes how it gains and loses weight. Both men and women experience a declining metabolic rate, or the number of calories the body needs to function normally. Hormone levels for both men and women slow down. This shift in hormones causes us to hold onto weight in our bellies.

The good news: You can fight this process, but not with sit-ups or abdominal crunches, said Martin. This is a popular myth. By performing sit-ups or crunches, you are helping to strengthen and firm up the muscles commonly known as the “six-pack.”

But crunches will do nothing to reduce your belly fat. “They don’t do anything as they’re not getting at the heart of the problem of middle-aged fat,” said Martin.

“Belly fat accumulates because the person is inactive, and eating food that is not optimal for the body,” explained Martin. This includes processed food, sugar, and restaurant food. Restaurant food is designed to taste good and to keep people satisfied.

It contains tons of salt, meat that was raised with hormones and antibiotics, and fish that is farm raised not wild caught.

“Our bodies are not designed to eat the large portions that are served at restaurants,” Martin added. “When you drink alcohol in addition to all the food, you’re taking in up to 6,000 calories.”

It’s true: You are what you eat.

The accumulation of belly fat is there because of excessive calorie consumption and lack of exercise, Martin said.

“There are three things to consider to get rid of belly fat,” added Martin. “Consistently do aerobic exercise, at least three or four days a week.

Exercise like running or jogging, swimming, cycling or walking briskly.”

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“Couple exercise with reasonable caloric intake, eat more fruits and vegetables and choose good quality protein. Maximize what you prepare at home,” Martin recommended.

The key is consistency, he said.

“You have to let your body know you’re in it for the long haul. The problem with humans is that they don’t stick to things,” he said.