By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Men: do you want to stop your waistline from growing as you age? A new study indicates weight training may be a more effective way to keep off belly fat than cardio workouts. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that weight training worked better than moderate-to-vigorous cardio exercise for men trying to prevent an increase in age-related abdominal fat.
This was a large study of 10,500 healthy men, who tend to store fat around the abdominal area – the so-called “apple shape” – more so than women do. The researchers analyzed the exercise patterns of men aged 40 and over who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study between 1996 and 2008 to see which activities had the most influence on the men’s waistlines.
The results? The men who did just 20 minutes of daily weight training had less gain around their midsection (-.67 or minus a little over a quarter of an inch), compared to men who did cardio workouts (-.33 or -1/8 inch) and men who did only lifestyle activities like yard work (-.16 or -1/16 inch). Those who watched TV or were otherwise sedentary only gained more belly fat.
The researchers concluded that, while weight training “had the strongest inverse relation with [waist circumference] change, [moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity] had the strongest inverse relation with body weight change.”
My Viewpoint: No doubt about it, belly fat is unattractive. But more importantly, it is dangerous, particularly the deeper layers of fat in the abdomen and around organs where it doesn’t belong. Belly fat increases atherosclerosis risk factors by secreting a steady stream of chemicals that kindle inflammation throughout the body, damaging the lining of arterial walls, including the coronary arteries and blood vessels in the kidneys.
What This Means to You: The Harvard team pointed out that more research into weight training and waistlines is needed, but at least now we have one more weapon in the fight against dangerous fat deposits in and around the abdomen. Avoiding sugar, sweets, and refined carbohydrates (pastas, breads, cookies, etc.) is vital too, since sugary, processed foods are highly damaging to the waistline and to the heart. A consistent, comprehensive program of healthy nutrition (healthy fats, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables) and regular fitness activity, particularly weight training, will prevent harmful belly fat build-up as you get older and protect your cardiac health.
My Recommendation: What I like about this study is that it suggests that you don’t have to spend long, sweaty hours in the gym lifting weights. Twenty minutes a day was enough to reap the benefits – which goes along with my advice to exercise moderately. You don’t need any fancy equipment either. In 20 minutes, you can work your entire body with a set of dumbbells in the convenience of your home or office. Add in a walking program too. Your heart will love you for it, and so will your waistline.
- Mekary RA, et al. Weight training, aerobic physical activities, and long-term waist circumference change in men. Obesity. 2015;23(2):461-467.
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