The quest for a 6-pack, and the pain involvedJust look at one person with a “six pack” and one with a beer belly, and you can guess their relative health quite accurately. Having a spare tire also increases one’s chances of having high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia and impaired glucose tolerance. So how hard is it to get rid of a belly and build up a six pack?
The answer differs depending on gender and age. For older woman, it’s not easy. For older men, it can seem impossible.
In a sense, the body is like a bank account. When there’s a surplus of something, it goes into a “savings account,” to be withdrawn when needed. Sugar, for instance, is used to generate energy, but additional sugar is stored in the liver and muscles. There is a limit to the amount of fat that can be stored in those organs ― a maximum of 60 grams (2 ounces) can be stored in the liver, while 120 to 360 grams can be stored in the muscles.
Where does the rest go? Sugar is stored beneath the skin for women and between internal organs for men (the difference is due to estrogen, a female hormone). The fat that’s stored between internal organs is the more harmful of the two. When fatty acid from the stomach flows into blood vessels, it causes hyperlipidemia. If it interferes with the activity of insulin, it leads to impaired glucose tolerance, the first step to diabetes. About 25 percent of those diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance develop diabetes in five years, or 60 percent of them in 10 years. High fat concentration in blood also causes apoplexy, or hardening of arteries.
No matter how thick the fatty layer beneath the skin is for women, it does not affect their health. However, when women pass 50 years of age and experience menopause, those with high amounts of fat might start to experience health problems. Estrogen production drops and fat builds up around the stomach and internal organs.
Fat builds up in different areas of the body, depending on one’s sex and age. In men, fat tends to build up around the belly, while in women it goes to the buttocks, thighs, abdomen and breasts. For young women, fat mostly goes to their hips and thighs, then moves to their bellies as they get older.
The different areas of fat concentration are results of an enzyme that disintegrates or stores fat. The areas in which the lipoprotein lipase are active change according to one’s age and sex. Lipoprotein lipase is more active in the buttocks and thighs as people grow up, but is more active in the belly when they reach middle age. Beta receptors also affect obesity, as the receptors disintegrate fat in the body. Interestingly, many of them are in the face and upper body, thus, when people lose weight, they become thinner in those places first. Usually, female obesity starts in the lower body due to estrogen.
“Six packs” are actually rectus abdominal muscles. That’s the muscle that contracts during a sit-up, and is also used during respiration. One reason elderly people often slouch is that their stomach muscles have deteriorated, making it hard for them to keep their posture. Everyone has rectus abdominal muscles, but only someone who has little fat in their belly region will have a six pack.
So now that we know why we get a beer belly, what can we do to get rid of it? The first and most obvious step is to reduce your caloric intake and burn more calories through exercise. The stomach is the last place in the body to use fat. Doing weight training helps in every way: It burns fat, defines muscles and keeps the weight from coming back.
Once you start shedding weight, concentrate on exercising your abdominal muscles. Abdominal crunches are the most effective way to build muscles. After lying down, raise the upper body 45 degrees, avoiding putting too much pressure on the back. Also try raising your legs up vertically over the body and slowly lowering them.
by Ko Jong-kwan