July 12, 2007

Even With Exercise, Belly Fat is Hard to Shake


Q I am 63 years old, and since January I have been lifting weights three times a week and using the rowing machine for cardio exercise, and I walk a mile every day. In addition to exercise I have also modified my eating habits. However, I can't seem to get rid of my belly and know of other ladies who also have this problem. One of them is 40 years old, is very thin and exercises, but also can't get rid of that bloated look. Can you give me any advice that might help? I do not do crunches or sit ups, because I have heard that ab exercises will only build up the muscles and make the tummy protrude more. Thanks for any help you may give.

A Many people are not concerned about their health until it's gone, so I'd like to congratulate you on making positive lifestyle changes. Your concerns with regard to the abdominal area are not uncommon. This is probably the most stubborn area of the body to firm up. I would encourage you to forget about anything you've read leading you to believe that doing ab exercises will cause the area to protrude. It is vital to strengthen these muscles (as well as the low back) as they support the trunk and provide stability and allow for greater functional strength. Strong abdominal/low back muscles act as a natural "girdle" surrounding your entire waistline and protecting the spinal column and organs.

Some possible causes of lack of flatness/firmness in the abdominal region are:

Body fat levels. Subcutaneous fat is easy to recognize. It lies just under the skin and covers the underlying muscles. Even with regular abdominal exercises, if subcutaneous fat levels are high, the area will have a soft look and feel. On the other hand, visceral fat cannot be seen. It lies underneath the abdominal muscles, potentially pushing them forward, as with the potbelly, which is round and hard to the touch. A combination of healthy diet and regular exercise, including cardiovascular and strength training exercise, is the best prescription for reducing body fat and keeping it off.

Water retention.

Too much sodium increases fluid retention, and so if you tend to favor salty foods, try using herbs, spices or other low- no-salt flavor options instead. When there is too much sodium in the body, the blood becomes saltier and water is drawn from the cells to dilute it. High sodium culprits include processed foods and restaurant/fast foods among others, so modify portions or substitute for healthier choices. Water retention and bloating can also be caused by hormone fluctuations, allergic reactions, steroid medications and other medicines, as well as some starchy or flour- based foods such as rice, breads or pasta when over-consumed. Consuming too much fiber, or increasing fiber too quickly, can also cause digestive problems and bloating.

The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000-calorie requirement. Eating foods that contain potassium such as bananas or raisins can help eliminate fluid retention. With some people, water retention and bloating seem to come and go without an obvious cause. If, despite your best efforts to pinpoint the source of the problem, you still experience difficulties, check with your doctor.

Age-related skin changes. Over time the elasticity of the skin diminishes, which can leave the abdominal area looking less taut. Limiting overexposure to the sun and consuming sufficient amounts of healthy omega 3 fatty acids can help keep the skin healthy and improve its appearance.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Association Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services. Write to her in care of the Dayton Daily News, contact her at (937) 878-9018 or by e-mail at [email protected] Her Web site is www.ohtrainer.com.