A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Jelly belly? It can hurt your heart health

Woman and man walking outside for exerciseHaving trouble buttoning your jeans?

Dropping belly fat can do more than help you fit into your clothes.

Whittling your waist can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, according to Dr. Lori Remeika, a Marshfield Clinic internal medicine physician.

The problem with belly bulge

Excess belly fat has been linked to inflammation and the production of certain hormones, both of which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high levels of “bad” blood cholesterol and heart disease.

What causes belly fat?

  • Overeating, especially foods high in saturated and trans fat, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, is a primary culprit.
  • People lose muscle as they age, especially if they aren’t physically active. Less muscle mass means it’s harder to burn calories and easier to gain belly fat.
  • Genetics can play a role in where your body stores fat.

How much is too much?

A waist measurement will tell you if your excess belly fat puts you at higher risk for heart problems.

Here’s how to measure:

  • Pull a tape measure around your bare waist, just above your hipbones. The tape measure should fit snugly, but not dig into your skin.
  • Measure your waist in a relaxed position, without sucking in your stomach.

A measurement of 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men indicates you’re carrying too much belly fat.

Trim your tummy

Find exercises you enjoy and aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. Combine strength training with cardio exercise to build muscle and take off belly fat faster.

Cardio exercise doesn’t need to be intense, Remeika said. Walking daily will help you get rid of belly fat.

Make changes to your diet. Reduce your intake of foods high in saturated fat, like fatty meats; trans fat, like packaged snacks and baked goods; and sugar to help you lose belly fat. Instead, chose lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

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