Healthy Living: Muscle Building
6 Reasons You Need Abs
Strip away fat and you'll strip away trouble, too. Learn how a stomach of steel helps you live longer
Abs Will Help You Live Longer
Abs Will Improve Your Sex Life
Abs Will Keep You Safe from Harm
Abs Will Strengthen Your Back
Abs Will Limit Your Aches and Pains
Abs Will Help You Win
One More Thing...
Abs Will Help You Live Longer
Study after study shows that the people with the most belly fat have the most risk of life-threatening disease. The evidence couldn't be more convincing.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a waistline larger than 40 inches for men signals significant risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The Canadian Heart Health Surveys, published in 2001, looked at 9,913 people ages 18 to 74 and concluded that for maximum health, a guy needs to keep his waist size at no more than 35 inches (a little less for younger guys, a little more for older ones). When your waist grows larger than 35 inches, you're at higher risk of developing two or more risk factors for heart disease.
And when researchers examined data from the Physicians' Health Study that has tracked 22,701 male physicians since 1982, they found that men whose waists measured more than 36.8 inches had a significantly elevated risk for myocardial infarction, or heart attack, in which an area of the heart muscle dies or is permanently damaged by a lack of bloodflow. Men with the biggest bellies were at 60 percent higher risk.
Now the real scary part: The average American man's waist size is a ponderous 38.8 inches, up from 37.5 in 1988, according to the journal Obesity Research. The same sad truth holds for women, too: A woman with a flabby midsection is at increased risk for the same health problems. And American women have seen their weight rise just as men have.
Of course, abs don't guarantee you a get-out-of-the-hospital-free card, but studies show that by developing a strong abdominal section, you'll reduce body fat and significantly cut the risk factors associated with many diseases, not just heart disease.
For example, the incidence of cancer among obese patients is 33 percent higher than among lean ones, according to a Swedish study. The World Health Organization estimates that up to one-third of cancers of the colon, kidney, and digestive tract are caused by being overweight and inactive.
And having an excess of belly fat around your gut is especially dangerous. See, cancer is caused by mutations that occur in cells as they divide. Fat tissue in your abdomen spurs your body to produce hormones that prompt your cells to divide. More cell division means more opportunities for cell mutations, which means more cancer risk.
A lean waistline also heads off another of our most pressing health problems-diabetes. Currently, 13 million Americans have been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and many more go undiagnosed. Fat, especially belly fat, bears the blame.
There's a misconception that diabetes comes only from eating too much refined sugar, like the kind in chocolate and ice cream. But people contract diabetes after years of eating high-carbohydrate foods that are easily converted into sugar-foods like white bread, pasta, and mashed potatoes.
Scarfing down a basket of bread and a bowl of pasta can do the same thing to your body that a carton of ice cream does: flood it with sugar calories. The calories you can't burn are what converts into fat cells that pad your gut and leaves you with a disease that, if untreated, can lead to impotence, blindness, heart attacks, strokes, amputation, and death. And that, my friend, can really ruin your day.
Upper-body obesity is also the most significant risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses during sleep, blocking your airway. When that happens, your brain signals you to wake up and to start breathing again. As you nod off once more, the same thing happens, and it can continue hundreds of times during the night-making you chronically groggy and unable to get the rest your body needs. (You won't remember waking up over and over again; you'll just wonder why 8 hours of sleep left you dragging.)
Fat's role is that it can impede muscles that inflate and ventilate the lungs, forcing you to work harder to get enough air. When Australian researchers studied 313 patients with severe obesity, they found that 62 percent of them with a waist circumference of 49 inches or more had a serious sleep disturbance and that 28 percent of obese patients with smaller waists (35 to 49 inches) had sleep problems. Being overweight also puts you at risk for a lot of other conditions that rob you of a good night's rest, including asthma and gastroesophageal reflux.
When Dutch researchers studied nearly 6,000 men, they found that even those whose waistlines measured a relatively modest 37 to 40 inches had a significantly increased risk of respiratory problems, such as wheezing, chronic coughing, and shortness of breath.
All of this can create an ugly cycle: Abdominal fat leads to poor sleep. Poor sleep means you drag through your day. Sluggish and tired, your body craves some quick energy, so you snack on some high-calorie junk food. That extra junk food leads to more abdominal fat, which leads to . . . well, you get the picture.
I'm going to boil it down to one sentence: A smaller waist equals fewer health risks.