By Maura Kelly

Why Flat Abs Are More Important Than Ever

So you’ve put on a pound or two this winter. That’s not so bad, right? Thing is, the extra weight probably went straight to your waist. And that’s where the trouble starts.

Belly fat is the latest threat to your health. Study after study shows that it increases your risk of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and dementia. Not only that, women whose waists are bigger than 35 inches are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease than women whose middles measure less than 28 inches, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. And a waist that’s more than 32 inches ups your risk of diabetes, experts say. “Some patients tell me, ‘I don’t have a weight problem except for my belly,’ but that is a big, big problem,” says Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center and a FITNESS advisory board member.

Belly fat, or visceral fat, is so dangerous because it lies deep in your abdomen, surrounds your organs, and secretes toxic hormones, explains Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. Two of the worst offenders it spawns are proteins called cytokines and adipokines, which contribute to the thickening of the walls of coronary blood vessels, increasing the chances that you’ll have a heart attack, says James A. de Lemos, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The liver — your body’s detox center — also seriously suffers if you have too much ab flab. “When the liver gets infiltrated with this fat, it can have a harder time filtering out harmful substances,” Fernstrom says. Belly bulge even affects your muscles, making them less effective, which can raise your diabetes risk. (The reason: Healthy muscles use up a lot of the sugar the body takes in, while sluggish ones can’t metabolize it as well.) If all that isn’t enough to make you start doing crunches, new evidence suggests that apple-shaped women are more likely to get certain cancers — especially breast, colon, and uterine — though researchers don’t yet know why.

Now for the good news (yes, there is some): “Before menopause, women lose weight far more easily from their bellies than from their thighs and buttocks,” says Michele S. Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, and a FITNESS advisory board member. The best advice: Get started today. On the next page we’ll share the experts’ top tips for losing the spare tire, keeping it off — and adding years to your life.


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