Few would argue that a toned guy with six-pack abs walking down the beach probably leads a more healthier life than the fellow with a beer gut spilling out of his ‘frankie says relax’ tanktop as he double-fists a cold brew. While exercise and eating right has a tendency to limit health problems, is it a guaranteed fact that beer-belly guy is unhealthy? For years people have made the correlation that waist size reflects health and longevity so let’s weigh out the facts.
The Two Types of Waist Fat
The fat that builds up around our waist is mainly caused by two things – a sedentary lifestyle and poor food choices. Sure, there are likely a health issue or two that cause waist fat, but for this article I’m ruling those issues out because that is not the case for most people. That being said a big belly isn’t necessarily a health red flag…as long as the fat is the right kind. One type of fatty tissue found around the abdomen is called subcutaneous fat that is stored directly underneath the skin. This type of fat acts similar to other fat around the body, it’s not especially beneficial but at the same time it’s no real special threat.
On the other side of the spectrum is a substance known as visceral fat that is stored in the abdomen and around internal organs. The presence of extreme visceral fat raises blood pressure and blood sugar and increases the risk of cardiac arrest. Eating foods high in fat or sugar lead to the accumulation of visceral fat as does high stress and lack of sleep. Visceral fat is extremely hard to lose and in workout and diet plans it’s usually the last to go.
What Constitutes a ‘Big Belly?’
We’d all love to have six-pack abs but just because we don’t are we considered out of shape? To understand how waist size reflects health means to understand the waist to hip ratio that determines how at risk you are. Use these steps to determine your waist to hip ratio:
- Relax your abdomen
- Measure your waist at the navel
- Measure your hips at the widest point
- Divide your waist size by hip size to get the ratio
When you’ve figured out the waist to hip ratio realize that in men the risk for adverse health effects for a big waist starts to increase after 0.95 and 0.85 in women. Some experts also are simply using your pants size as a way of evaluating your risk whereas a 37” waist and below present low opportunities, 37 to 39.9 moderate and 40+ high risk.
When Correlated with BMI
Note: I know that many people don’t like the BMI (Body Mass Index) but for the purpose of having a benchmark…I’m going to use it as a reference. Now…moving on…
There are just some naturally big people in the world and it would be unfair to say a 6’7” 385 pound farmer was high-risk for health concerns just because his overalls were huge. Waist size is only an indicator of proper health when factored with body mass index. BMI is a number calculated from a person’s height and weight and while it doesn’t measure body fat directly is used as a screening tool to detect possible weight problems. BMI is calculated by dividing the body weight by height (in inches) squared and multiplying that number by 703. The corresponding number helps determine if an individual is underweight, normal, overweight or obese. Once again a person with a lot of muscle will tend to register at overweight despite the fact they’re an ideal picture of health so BMI can’t solely be used to reflect health either.
Being the Proper Weight Isn’t Necessarily a Free Pass
It’s important to remember that the visceral fat is the harmful substance that causes an increased risk of death in people with bigger waists. The thing is that visceral fat can also exist in thinner people’s abdomen areas and even a 160-pound guy who has a big belly could stand to increase his exercise regimen. Visceral fat releases fatty acids, hormones, and inflammatory agents that present risks to the liver, heart, and kidneys among other organs.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that it never hurts to lose a few inches around the midsection (so long as you maintain a healthy minimum weight.) By getting exercise and eating better you’ll feel energized and will in turn sleep better and hopefully have less stress – all factors that contribute to a bigger belly.