Fit After 40: How to Fight Stubborn Belly Fat
One of the realities of life is that as we age our body goes through many changes. One of those changes that can occur is the accumulation of the dreaded “belly fat.” It may start out as those “love handles” or that “spare tire” that becomes a part of our midsection, but left unattended it can blossom into a full-fledged case of belly fat.
Men begin to lose muscle mass as they approach their 40th birthday, something that helps contribute to belly fat because muscle burns a relatively large percentage of the calories you consume. As you lose muscle, you gradually lose your ability to effectively burn calories and that’s when that “spare tire” tends to kick in.
Controlling and reducing excess belly fat goes far beyond the cosmetic aspect because excess belly fat has been linked to numerous health issues, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
- Certain types of cancer
- Sleep apnea
- Fatty liver disease
- Kidney disease
Just like all things related to health and fitness, it’s better to prevent than to try to eliminate after the fact, but for many men, that’s easier said than done. The Fit After 40 series aims to pinpoint health and fitness issues facing men over the age of 40 so they can stave off the negative effects of aging, inside and out. With professional advice and workout plans from physical trainers at various Texas Health Fitness Centers across the metroplex, we hope we can kickstart your fitness routine or help you maintain the routine you already have so you can keep achieving as you age, whether you’re a weekend warrior or not.
Eric Samaniego, a certified personal trainer and manager at the Texas Health CityLine Fitness Center, says that while it’s a common misconception that we can target belly fat specifically, there are a few things men can do to help prevent or reduce extra fat around their midsection.
“When it comes to body fat, the belly is the first place where fat begins to accumulate for men and is seemingly the most difficult area for it to come off,” Samaniego says. “Another kicker is that you cannot spot reduce. That means that there are no specific exercises that will specifically target the reduction of belly fat. Not even 100 crunches a day will slim your waistline. It just doesn’t work that way.”
So the million-dollar question is, “How do I get rid of belly fat?” Samaniego notes that taking a look at your lifestyle can be a great indicator of weak spots that you can approve upon.
The key areas to address for effective weight loss are:
- Physical activity
“Losing weight begins with a mental challenge,” Samaniego says. “You must first make the decision to want to work at this. Also, think of attitude as a synonym for ‘willpower,’ ‘stress management’ and even ‘mindfulness.’ Our mental capacity of influencing a lifestyle change plays an enormous role in our ability to succeed. Don’t underestimate the need for a truly strong positive attitude. This is an endurance event, not a sprint.”
Sleep is an essential component of our total well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, 35.5 percent of men slept for less than 7 hours. Individuals who reported receiving less than 7 hours of sleep each night also had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2, while 26.5 percent of individuals who reported getting sufficient sleep had the same BMI.
“Many vital physical and mental functions take place when you sleep, including appropriate recovery from physical activity,” Samaniego explains. “The general consensus is a recommendation of seven to eight hours of sleep each night.”
Samaniego says to think of nutrition as fuel for your body. Good nutrition is a balanced intake of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
“Eat the good, eliminate the junk,” he adds. “A variety of good foods will also provide all the essential vitamins and minerals to allow your body to function properly, including weight loss and weight management. And remember to practice good hydration; drink plenty of water every day.”
“Research shows that strength training combined with a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program will provide the best means for weight management and overall physical conditioning,” Samaniego explains. “Seek the advice of a good fitness trainer that can help you design an exercise program that is personalized to you, with your specific goals, strengths, and limitations.”
Regarding a strength-training program, Samaniego says to think about working the entire body versus focusing on one specific area or muscle.
An effective, full-body workout should always include five general movement patterns:
- Push — variations of the bench press, overhead press, and push-ups
- Pull — variations of pull-ups and rowing movements
- Squat — squat variations (back, front, goblet, overhead, lunges, etc.)
- Hinge — dead-lift variations
- Loaded carries — carrying weighted objects while walking
For each exercise session, choose one lift from each of the five categories and focus on performing each lift 10 times using a weight you are comfortable with, increasing weight as you progress. As for sets, it’s dependent on the amount of weight you are lifting. Lighter weight sets can be repeated up to five times while heavier weight sets will require less repetitions.
For example, sets and reps could be as follows:
- 5 sets of 2 reps (heavier weight)
- 2 sets of 5 reps (lighter weight)
“It’s important to remember that each set should NOT be to maximum effort,” Samaniego warns. “Don’t deplete your energy on any given set/rep combination. Always perform each repetition with perfect form and technique, and learn how to use your entire body for each lift.”
All of the movements should vary between bilateral lifts (e.g., both arms or legs together) and unilateral lifts (e.g., one arm or leg at a time). Resistance can be from kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, sandbags, heavy balls, etc., or from some machines and cable apparatuses, and Samaniego adds that constantly changing your routine and adding variety is a good thing. No matter what you choose to do, focus on working out two to six days a week depending on your goals.
Regarding cardiovascular conditioning using high-intensity interval training, Samaniego suggests selecting a type of exercise that genuinely interests you, such as running, walking, rowing, cycling, swimming and various group exercise formats.
An easy place to start is by walking. Instead of just taking a stroll around your block at the same speed, Samaniego says adding variety (just like in strength training) can improve the efficiency of your workout.
“Perform a work session of 5 to 30 seconds, then a recovery session of 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on the length and intensity,” he says. “An example is to run or jog for 15 seconds, then walk for 45 seconds, then repeat for a total duration of 20 minutes.”
Always start a program at a level that is safe for you, and slowly progress over time. There are many variations of HIIT exercise programs, so get some good advice and guidance from a qualified trainer.
Texas Health fitness centers not only provide a wide variety of gym equipment, but staff members can help explain and demonstrate how to properly use a piece of equipment or how to perform a certain exercise, giving you the base knowledge you need to make the most of your workout and plan.
“Getting rid of belly fat will require some dedicated effort, Samaniego says. “Stay clear of the marketing onslaught of the numerous ‘lose weight fast’ diet options and seemingly magical supplements. Instead, make the decision to live a healthy lifestyle and you will gain the many benefits that will follow. Meet with a qualified fitness trainer who can work with you to design a program that will guide you toward your success. With the right attitude and good direction, I know that you can be successful!”
At a Texas Health fitness center, you don’t need a perfect body, and you don’t need fancy attire. All you need is the determination to feel and look your best. To learn more about the fitness programs at our hospital-based centers and to find one near you, visit TexasHealth.org/Fitness.