Belly fat, the kind that creeps behind stomach muscles around 40 and won’t go away, is dangerous. It’s also impossible to burn at the gym, Dr. Mehmet Oz told USA TODAY.
This kind of belly fat is worse than other fat, because it can cause a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Oz said so many people today carry too much, it's become a health "epidemic."
In a 14-year study released in 2015 of more than 15,000 people, normal-weight men with big bellies were twice as likely to die compared to men who were obese. Women with normal weights and big bellies were 32% more likely to die during the study than obese women, according to the study, led by Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist.
Belly fat is a problem when a person’s waist measures (belly button to hips) more than half a person’s height, Oz said.
The good news is a healthy diet can combat the fat. Even one change can make the difference: Cut out white foods, Oz said. That means no white rice, sugar or flour. Instead, reach for whole grains, nuts and avocados.
Health and fitness expert behind the Insanity workouts, Shaun T advises choosing foods that expire within two weeks to ensure there aren’t any preservatives.
Beyond diet changes, Oz said he believes stress can also play a role in increased belly fat. He said he sees it in his own life.
“I’ve always thought that being tired and stressed out would lead me to crave carbohydrates,” Oz said. “When I feel like I’m getting chunky, I try to address stress in my life.”
What about those crunches and sit-ups you’re doing at the gym? Probably not working.
“It’s a myth that you can target belly fat with exercise,” Oz said.
Shaun T told USA TODAY via email people can’t “spot train.” In other words, the body decides what fat to burn first.
While people can’t just exercise away belly fat, trainers like Shaun T and Jullian Michaels encourage core exercises that burn body fat overall.
“One of my favorite exercises to burn fat are high knee sprints,” Shaun T said. “You get a high cardio challenge by driving those knees up towards your chest, and you have no choice but to engage your core and work on that lower belly as you stand tall and really push.”
For those striving for defined abs, Sean T said people should know every body is different.
“Some people have six packs, some have flat packs, some have no-packs,” he said. “My brother and I have two completely different sets of abs. Train hard, eat clean, sleep well and most importantly remember that overtraining your abs will slow down your results, not help them.”
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