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How To: Finally Beat that Belly Fat

One of the seemingly unavoidable pitfalls of aging is unwanted weight gain. This is not simply because of the aesthetics of being overweight; it's because excess fat is highly toxic to the body and therefore highly aging as well. Traditionally, women tend to gain weight in their hips and men in their abdomen. However, as we get older, women are particularly subject to weight gain in the abdominal area. Here's the worst news of it all—losing this weight becomes more and more difficult with each year that passes. But there's good news on the horizon.

The Toxic Fat

Long story short, there are two types of fat:
  • Sub-cutaneous, found under the skin
  • Visceral, found in the abdomen and surrounding our vital organs
Referred to as "toxic fat" because of its ability to produce a veritable factory of inflammatory chemicals, visceral fat—or belly fat—is considered the most dangerous type of fat. Not only does it increase our risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but it also puts pressure on vital organs. The result? An increased chance of heart trouble.

Cortisol and Stress

Much of the blame for this visceral fat can be attributed to chronic stress and the effects of stress-induced cortisol production. To make it even worse, cortisol levels can actually influence where fat is deposited on the body. A 2001 study from the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine linked the release of cortisol during times of acute and chronic stress in non-overweight women to excess cortisol levels and abdominal weight gain. Interestingly, the cause-and-effect process flows both ways—it has been proven that women (and men) who store weight in the abdominal area also have higher cortisol levels (and higher stress levels) than people whose weight is stored on the hips.

Weights to the Rescue

According to a University of Pennsylvania study, weight training is especially effective in helping to eliminate central obesity. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study found that just two one-hour sessions of weight lifting per week can bring down the chances of age-related fat buildup in the abdomen. Dr. Perricone has long been a fan of weightlifting and resistance training in conjunction with some form of aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, many women shy away from working with weights with the feat that they'll "bulk up" like their male counterparts. Not to worry, ladies—this isn't actually the case. Not only does the average woman have approximately ten times less of the muscle-building hormone testosterone than the average male, but female muscle also produces less tension per unit volume and each muscle fiber has a smaller cross-sectional area. As a result, your body will become more sculpted in appearance and experience an increase in strength and muscle tone without bulking up. Still not convinced? Try this on for size—weight-training exercises will also slow age-related functional degeneration, bearing out the outstanding anti-aging benefits of exercise. Three 45-minute weight-training sessions per week—rotated with other forms of exercise—is considered ideal. Be patient; it may take as long as six weeks to begin seeing noticeable physical changes in your body, but stay with it because the beneficial and highly-visible changes are more than worth the effort.

But Remember...

The other side of the coin pertains to overexercising. Yes, it's possible, and yes, it's pro-inflammatory. Overexercising can trigger the release of cortisol, ultimately promoting unwanted weight gain (especially in the abdominal area), breaking down muscle tissue and accelerating the rate at which we age. So before starting a weight-training program, consult with your physician and/or a professional trainer to make sure you're training at the right level; one that helps you avoid injury and ensure you're performing exercises correctly.