Sample Image Body fat serves many important functions. It is the body's main depot for energy providing fuel for the body's metabolism when food is scarce. It releases energy to support prolonged exercise. Fat is also the warehouse for vitamins A,D,E, and K. And it serves mechanical functions. It is the body's best insulation, helping to conserve heat in cool environments: it cushions the internal organs against jostling and trauma, and it helps keep swimmers afloat. 

Bad Fat. While some fat is essential for health more is not better, quite the reverse. Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gallstones, and cancers of the prostate, colon, and female breast and reproductive organs.  

The mortality rates of obese men are 28 percent higher than those of average men and a whopping 40 percent higher than those of lean men. Obesity is one of the major health problems in New Zealand and the estimated cost of obesity in New Zealand is $135 million per year.

Worse Fat. Excess fat is never good, but some types of fat are worse than others. When viewed through a microscope, all fat cells look the same, but they behave quite differently. Fat cells in the abdomen and chest have several unique properties. Upper-body fat cells have high levels of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase: this means they are geared up to store energy when the body has an excess of calories. When men gain weight, fat tends to accumulate first around the waist and to a lesser degree around the chest. In contrast women store lower body fat in the buttocks and legs. Upper body fat cells are responsible for the "pear shape" or "beer belly" seen on many men. Upper-body fat cells also build up where they can't be seen inside the abdomen and around the internal organs.

Abdominal obesity is much more damaging to health. It has a strong link to "syndrome X," the deadly quartet of high insulin, high sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Even in people who don't have these problems, abdominal obesity is clearly associated with high levels of LDH (bad) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. All in all, abdominal obesity is strongly linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke and is far more hazardous to health than lower-body obesity.

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Who gets abdominal obesity?
Both men and women can develop abdominal obesity, but it's much more common in men. Gender is the most powerful influence on the distribution of body fat, but it's not the only factor. Genetics is responsible for up to 70 percent of an individual's tendency to accumulate extra weight in the midsection. Age however, is most responsible for the middle-age spread so common. And the effects of aging are magnified enormously by the final factor, a lack of exercise. The National Institute on Aging has found that beginning at the age of 30, in each decade of life the body fat of sedentary men increased 17 percent and the waist circumference 2 percent. Weight training combined with aerobic exercise can reduce fat accumulation to just 3 percent per decade and hold the mid-body bulge to just 1 percent per decade.

Determining abdominal fat 

To determine if you have too much of the worst fat, abdominal fat, you need to determine the waist-to-hip ratio. First, with your abdomen relaxed, measure your waist at its narrowest, which is usually at the navel. Next measure your hips at their widest, usually at the bony prominence. Finally, divide your waist size by your hip size to learn your ratio.

How does your ratio translate into health risk? American Heart Association figures show the risk of heart attack and stroke increase progressively in men with ratios above 1.0, and for women the danger begins at 0.8. And the risk is substantial. Men with ratios above 1.0 have twice the death rate of those with ratios below .85. Men with ratios above 0.98 were 2.3 times more likely to suffer strokes that men with ratios below 0.89. That's a big effect from just a few inches. The bottom line is, keep the fat from accumulating around the waist.

Sample ImageDiet, weight loss, and strength training. Dieting to lose weight can have a down side unless you weight train. On a low calorie diet your body not only loses fat but also lean muscle mass. Jogging and other endurance activities while important do not prevent this. Only strength training can help reduce the loss of muscle mass. Large muscle group weight training exercises are recommended.

Fat and Fitness. Health experts claim that being fat is not the main problem. Being unfit is. Health experts believe that the health problems associated with obesity would disappear if people would bag their unhealthy life-styles, get their weight down to a "healthy" level, adopt good eating habits (keep fat intake down), and develop a passion for vigorous exercise.

by Mike McCaulay, Personal Trainer  

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