A Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) study looked at different types of exercise to find which is best at reducing belly fat. The study is published in the December issue of the journal Obesity. I don’t usually talk about weight loss as an overall health goal. I know that focusing on weight loss can be an unhealthy way to try to get healthy. Health isn’t about shedding pounds. It’s about eating healthy, whole foods and staying active. It’s about a lifestyle, not what you see when you step on the scale.
So, what am I doing talking about belly fat? It turns out that fat stored around the midsection is not just annoying. Reducing belly fat — not losing weight — might protect our overall health.
After a bit of digging I learned that body shape is closely correlated with our overall health. Folks who store fat in our midsections as opposed to our hips and legs are at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. In fact the HSPH study’s lead author Rania Mekary, a researcher in HSPH’s Department of Nutrition says, “body weight alone is insufficient for the study of healthy aging. Measuring waist circumference is a better indicator of healthy body composition among older adults.”
Mekary is talking about something called the Waist to Hip Ratio. You measure your waist at the narrowest point and divide it by your hip measurement at the widest spot. So, if your waist is 28 inches and your hips are 32 inches, your Waist to Hip Ratio would be 0.875. A healthy Waist to Hip Ratio for women is 0.8 or lower. For men, 1.0 or lower is considered healthy.
The Harvard belly fat study looked at 12 years of physical activity data for 10,500 healthy U.S. men aged 40 and over. Some of the men focused more on different types of cardiovascular exercise while others did more weight training. It found that the men who spent 20 extra minutes a day on weight training lost two to four times as much belly fat as men doing cardio.
Senior study author Frank Hu summed up the results: “This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly. To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise.”
This study only looked at men over age 40, and of course more research is needed to see if women over 40 and both men and women in other age groups get similar results. The good news is that there’s already evidence that weight training is good for women, too. Getting stronger and building endurance is good for us at any age and any gender. If you’re concerned that weight training could cause you problems because of existing health conditions, your doctor or a personal trainer can give you recommendations about how to weight train safely.
This research doesn’t mean that we should ditch our cardio routines. Cardiovascular exercise — like walking, running, and swimming — comes with its own set of health benefits. What the study shows is that we need to balance our cardio with weight training. That could mean lifting free weights or using weight machines. It could mean using resistance training, like pushups, squats, and lunges. Just as with diet, a healthy exercise routine is about balance and variety.
source: Becky Striepe, Care2