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Friday, Feb 08 2013 01:53 PM

Men's Health Special: The Beer Belly Syndrome (and how to cure it)

By Drs. Darshan R. Shah, MD & Milan Shah, MD of Beautologie Medical Group

The beer belly — it’s a man’s curse. It starts in our 30s, and grows like an uncontrollable tumor for the next 30 years with every frosty cool one. But the beer belly is more than just an unsightly problem that forces us to go up in pant sizes. It can be a sign of hidden killers lurking inside.

Recent studies have shown that men are much more likely to gain weight around the waist than women. Weight gain in this specific area (called visceral fat) is correlated with severe health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, high triglycerides, sleep apnea and even cancer. A recently published Harvard article showed that men with increased abdominal girth are at an increased risk for osteoporosis.

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Why does the beer belly phenomenon occur? There are two main reasons: 1.) As men age, our mid-abdominal muscles weaken and lose mass. This causes intra-abdominal contents (your intestines and organs) to push outwards; and 2.) Men have a large omentum (the fat that is wrapped around your intestines to protect them), which tends to gain mass more rapidly than the fat elsewhere in our bodies. The combination of weak muscles and increased intra-abdominal mass pushing outward gives the abdomen the appearance of a round, bulging beer belly.

The best way to test if you have too much belly fat is something you can easily do at home, which is measure your waist just above your hip bone. If your waist diameter is more than 40 inches, you are at higher risk for any of the above health concerns.

Although genetics plays a minor role, the rapid gain in intra-abdominal fat in our 40s is due to slowing metabolism, increased alcohol intake and high caloric diets. Combine this with a lack of exercise and core strengthening, and you have the perfect recipe for a new size 42 belt!

Here is a simple three-step program to reduce your risk of serious health concerns, and get into shape before the summer swimming season:

Step 1: Reduce Calories. The best way for men to do this is portion control. Take half of your dinner order home for lunch the next day, use a smaller plate, share your food, and replace calorie dense foods with healthier veggies and proteins. And, yes, drink less beer.

Step 2: Increase your physical activity. Most days we don’t realize how sedentary we are. The Nike Fuel Band is something I use to keep my activity level on track! I set a goal for 3,000 fuel points a day, and if I am not there by the end of the day, I go for a walk with the dog before dinner.

Step 3: Sit-ups. No way around it. You need to tighten those mid-abdominal muscles by working your way up to 100 sit-ups a day.

It takes hard work, discipline and deduction, but the benefits are doubled: You get to wear slim fit jeans and reduce your chances of serious health disease in the future!

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