By Mackie Shilstone
One of the most serious health problems facing Americans today is obesity. The United States has become one of the fattest nations on earth. Nearly 100 million people in this country -- an astounding 55% of the adult population -- are overweight. Those numbers have grown by 8% in the last ten years and they continue to grow, with no end in sight.
As people age, they tend to accumulate excess fat in the abdominal region, especially in men. The problem becomes more visible and problematic as we enter middle age. We may develop what are jokingly called "love handles" or "beer bellies," but these are nothing to joke about. Excess abdominal fat can contribute to the incidence of coronary-vascular ailments, Type-2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
Today, record numbers of Americans are living sedentary lives. We no longer have to hunt, fish or farm for our sources of sustenance, nor do most of us engage in physical activity that helps keep our weight down. We sit in our cars or at our desks behind our computers for eight or more hours a day or stand in one place on an assembly line. During our leisure time, we sit on plush couches watching television or we engage in other passive forms of entertainment like computer or video games. Unless we make a conscious effort to exercise, we generally don't get enough of it in our daily litany of activities.
And, to make matters worse, the quality of our food has deteriorated. Whereas we once ate foods that were high in fiber grains, vitamins and other nutrients, we're now eating processed goods in which many of the nutrients have been extracted and replaced with chemical substitutes. Large-scale agricultural production has depleted many essential minerals from the soil where crops are grown. Consequently, we're eating produce that doesn't supply 100% of our bodies' needs for building strong bones and healthy immune systems.
To make matters still worse, we're also ingesting massive quantities of beverages that are laden with sugar and/or simple carbohydrates. Beer and carbonated soft drinks are the major culprits here.
So, now that we know the basic reasons why we're overweight and less healthy, what can we do to get rid of those extra pounds? The answer is basically twofold: eat higher quality food and get sufficient exercise. This may sound elementary but getting to that point is not elementary. It takes discipline, willpower and a regimented program but, most of all, it takes a desire to attain your goal. That desire starts with recognition of the problem
Many people think that all they have to do to get healthy is lose weight. Unfortunately, it's a little more complicated than that. You also must get your "Body Mass Index" into an acceptable range
Body Mass Index (BMI) is the generally accepted standard by which we measure obesity. BMI is the number arrived at when you calculate your weight in kilograms divided by your height squared. To save you the hassle of conversion and calculations, I have included a helpful chart below. Your BMI is where the lines of your height and weight intersect.
CALCULATING YOUR BODY MASS INDEX
WHAT YOUR BMI MEANS*
Below 20 -- Unless you are an athlete, this may be too thin
20 to 22 -- Greatest longevity and lowest incidence of serious illness
22 to 25 -- Within acceptable range and good health
25 to 30 -- Entering zone of serious health risks, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer and stroke
30 and up -- Definitely putting yourself at risk for the diseases mentioned above
*If you are athletic and have a high BMI you may have to evaluate your BMI number with your total body fat level to rule out error
So, now that you know what your BMI is and whether or not you’re safe or at risk, what do you do about it? Get yourself onto a diet and into a cardio-training and exercise program. Find out which foods and beverages have a high glycemic index and limit their intake to after exercise or athletic events to aid recovery.
Foods with high glycemic levels may be high in sugar content and break down in the body quickly, thus adding fat if you are not engaged in strenuous physical activity. Most types of fruits and berries have low glycemic indexes, as do most pure, unsweetened fruit juices. Most of the vegetables you presently enjoy are good for you, as are most types of beans, peas and nuts. Many lean and low-fat dairy and bread produces are good as well. If you consult your doctor or a licensed nutritionist, they can usually tell you which foods are in the glycemic index of foods.
As far as exercise goes, one of the best things you can do for yourself is aerobic walking. The beauty of this form of exercise is that it doesn’t take any special equipment, other than a comfortable pair of walking shoes and you can do it almost anywhere. You can walk outdoors or, if the weather is too hot or inclement, you can do it in an enclosed shopping mall. The important thing is to work out up to 45 minutes a day in an aerobic exercise such as walking, with your physician's approval. And, if you're not inclined to leave the house, you can always buy a treadmill and set it up at home. It's a small investment, considering the benefits it will bring to your personal health and well-being
The most important thing to remember is that your goal should not only be to take off excess abdominal fat but to keep it off. This requires constant maintenance and monitoring. Set a weight loss and BMI goal and body composition objective and strive to attain it. However, don't stop your routine when you get there, thinking the job is done. You not only want to lose those "love handles," you want them to stay lost. Eat the right foods and develop a workable exercise regimen and you should attain your weight loss goal.
For more information about losing excess abdominal fat, read my book Lose Your Love Handles. It’s available at bookstores or online at amazon.com.