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Women, Weights and Waistlines

While such fat is undesirable from an aesthetic viewpoint, when it’s around the waist, it has a far more ominous portent because it’s a sign of deep-lying, or visceral, bodyfat.

Creeping obesity affects both sexes, with youthful, slim waistlines morphing into potbellies by the time most people are in their 40s. While men have obvious potbellies, women tend to store more fat in their upper thighs, hips and buttocks, so the effect of midsection fat is more subtle. In women, a roll of fat around the middle spills over their pants to create a muffin-top effect. Various studies show that American women, aged 25 to 44, gain an average of 0.5 to 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fat each year. 

While such fat is undesirable from an aesthetic viewpoint, when it’s around the waist, it has a far more ominous portent because it’s a sign of deep-lying, or visceral, bodyfat. Fat in the abdominal area is closely linked to various degenerative diseases, such as insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that it’s the first fat to go if you stick with a judicious program of exercise and diet.

Several studies have shown that the body preferentially burns visceral fat during aerobic exercise. Emerging studies show that you can get the same effect from weight training. A recent study illustrates the point. In it, 164 overweight women, aged 25 to 44, were divided into two groups. The first group weight-trained twice a week for two years. The other group received brochures suggesting that they do aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes daily.

At the end of the two-year study the women in the weight-training group had lost 4 percent of their bodyfat, while those in the brochure group had lost none—they must have read about exercise rather than doing it. Those in the weight group also gained less abdominal fat than the other group—7 percent vs. the 21 percent gain in the brochure group.

Based on those results, the authors suggest that young women who participate in a weight-training program can expect to gain less bodyfat, especially abdominal fat, as the years go by. There are obvious benefits in appearance, as well as less obvious but more important benefits in health and longevity. Women should be aware that while aerobics is great for aiding bodyfat loss, it does little to improve body shape. You get that only from weight training. The best program includes both aerobics and weight training.

As for the “muffins,” they’re best left in the oven or in the care of the Pillsbury doughboy—who, come to think of it, could stand to lose a little bodyfat himself. IM

Schmitz, K.H., et al. (2007). Strength training and adiposity in premenopausal women: Strong, Healthy, and Empowered study. Am J Clin Nutr. 86:566-72.

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