A lowdown on the ubiquitous male pot belly, the store-house of diseasesPot bellies ensure that the Indian male vanity takes a big punch in the stomach. But what is worse, is that bad health can be measured in the inches you notch up there. Gaining even two or four extra ones on your belly dramatically raises the risk of various illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Doctors liken a pot belly, clinically termed as central obesity, to a five-kilo bag attempting to carry 10 kilos of tomatoes. Little wonder then that pot bellies destroy posture and spinal align-ment over time. Of the two kinds of abdominal fat couching your mid-section, the subcutaneous fat, the one that you can pinch on your tummy, lies under the skin. The real culprit though is the visceral fat, lodged deep in your stomach around the intestines, liver and kidneys. This keeps growing to give you the pot belly.Bariatric surgeon Dr Manish Motwani says like all muscles, the ab muscles are also isolated from the fat tissues. “The size and firmness of the ab muscles don’t affect the fat that lies on them, but weak ab muscles may bulge outward, giving the appearance of a pot belly. The visceral fat, which is programmed to store energy in a state of famine, contributes a lot to the ap-pearance of your paunch. Men are more likely to carry excess weight in the belly than women and hence end up with ‘apple-shaped bodies’, with a high waist cir-cumference.”Belly basicsStudies have shown that a pot belly surfaces due to four reasons — genetics, food, stress and hormones. Hered-ity plays a key role in how easily you will grow one. You may be genetically predisposed to pile on kilos on your upper body (stomach) or lower body (hips, buttocks and legs). Your waist-to-hip ratio and the absolute waist circumference determine the severity of central obe-sity. Scientists maintain that our bodies weren’t ever equipped to handle the calorie-heavy, overprocessed foods that are commonplace today. While potbellies, also known as beer bellies, are usually believed to be a result of drinking, sugar is also a culprit.A pot-bellied person may be eating too many simple carbohydrates, such as those found in processed sug-ary foods, which, when not burnt, turn into fat. Stress from a bad workplace, an unhappy relationship or a difficult academic life triggers our bodies to produce high levels of cortisol, which drives up our appetite and makes us overeat, the fat again seeking shelter in our abs. Dr Motwani says, “A hormonal disorder such as Cushing’s syndrome, which is caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol, also leads to central obesity. Where the fat deposits go may depend on the lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme necessary for fat storage. Indian men have higher concentration of this enzyme in the abdomen and hence are pot-bellied.” Besides, with age, a fall in sex hormones also causes men and women to develop a paunch.Bust it There’s more bad news. It’s next to impossible to actu-ally target and spot-bust fat pockets. Crunches, for in-stance, tone the back and ab muscles and yet do little to burn the belly fat.However, the upshot is that since visceral fat is meta-bolically active, it’s the first type to burn off if you exer-cise regularly. If you can’t find the time or inclination to work out, using stairs instead of elevators and get-ting off the bus one stop earlier and walking it up are simple ways to keep your fat meter in check. Studies show you can lose weight four times quicker by adding light bursts of exercise — up to 30 minutes in total — into your daily schedule.
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