x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Watch that waist

There's no doubt that midriff bulge can cause more problems than just cosmetic ones. The question is: what do you do about it.

Let's be serious. Most people with sedentary jobs have trouble with belly fat at some point in their lives. Some people imagine their "love handles" to be larger than they actually are, while others are in complete denial about their "pot bellies". The rest of us are squarely realistic, and perhaps even grudgingly resigned to that reality. Whatever you want to call it, that "spare tyre" around the waist is worse than other kinds of weight gain. Abdominal fat is a key player in a number of health concerns. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which lies just under the skin, abdominal, or visceral fat is more likely to be lining the spaces between the organs deep inside the abdomen.

Looking like a "muffin top" increases risk for insulin resistance and heart disease, and it has been shown to disrupt normal hormonal balance and function. Visceral fat is also biologically active. It pumps out immune-system chemicals called cytokines which cause inflammation, and are associated with colorectal cancer risk. Well, consider that the first part of my job done. I've made it clear that the "midriff bulge" is serious. Now only one question remains: what can we do about tubby tummies? According to a recent study put out by the University of Illinois's Division of Nutritional Sciences and its integrative immunology and behaviour programme, a little exercise goes a long way. In fact, even modest exercise without a change in diet showed improvements in insulin sensitivity, less fat in the liver and less inflammation.

In the study, the researchers examined the effects of diet and exercise on the inflammation of visceral fat tissue in plump, well-fed mice. Mice were assigned to one of four groups: a sedentary group, an exercise group, a low-fat-diet group, or a group that combined a low-fat diet with exercise. The exercising mice ran on a treadmill about one quarter of a mile five days a week. For humans, that would roughly translate to walking 30 to 45 minutes a day for five days a week. For most people, this is not completely unmanageable. Walking is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to exercise and this activity effectively reduced the accumulation of visceral fat even in subjects eating a high-fat diet. The sedentary mice were the only ones to experience significant increases in belly fat.

This is great news. It means that we can all enjoy our mealtimes as long as exercise is on the agenda, helping us to avoid the negative health effects of the "belly bulge".