Friday, January 18, 2013

The Stubborn Underbelly of Walking's Slimming Effect

My "Diary of a Seventy-Something Who Hates Naps" would have to have entries of frustration as well as triumph. My nemesis is belly fat (aka, a spare tire or flabby abs).

In general, walking is serving this old guy well in his quest of improved fitness. I have particularly made gains as I have started writing of my adventures every day. If you are not into blogging, I recommend keeping a daily journal.

Since January 1, I have lost 3.7 pounds. That is part of a loss of about 10 pounds since last September. Walking is going to help me continue to peel off more poundage gradually. I will remain on the trail because I know all too well that backsliding is an ever-present danger.

At one time, I was pushing 280 pounds. (That kind of heft was helpful when I played defensive line a long, long time ago, but it is a huge hazard now.) After Cardiac Rehab post-heart-surgery, I was down to 269 pounds and reasonably mobile and able to lift light weights. For the eight years since then, I have peeled 5 pounds off, only to let my guard down and put the 5 back on. Yo-yo me.

Now, I am within about a pound of seeing the 250s on my Weight Watchers scales for the first time in 25 years. With the help of Superdawg and my blog, I intend to make the 250s my new norm, and then set a new goal further downward.

The one frustration is weight distribution. Friends and family have noticed a slimming effect around face and neck. I feel more looseness in my pants/jeans legs, as though a tailor could work on them usefully by taking a tuck or two. However, alas, I still have the belly flab, the jelly belly. It doesn't seem to have shrunk any yet.

Is the message that something is needed in addition to walking and sensible nutrition to cut the belly fat? A Google search will show you all sorts of supposed elixirs, including foods, diets, supplements,  daily activities, sports to play, and exercises. I don't have the science to support any of them, but what I can do is chronicle my own experiences over the coming weeks and years, and see if they provide some clues.

A fascinating article in Prevention magazine (November 2011) presented "41 Ways to Flatten Your Belly." I have to say that some of the writer's suggestions were impractical for many folks, perhaps seventy(or -eighty)somethings in particular. "Give boxing a whirl" -- are you serious (even if, yes, the writer was referring to aerobic kick-boxing)? Kayaking? -- not practical for me. Vacuuming the house, gardening, playing a few holes of golf? I could handle those, but I doubt they have a significant effect on belly fat.

The article did present a lot of down-in-the-floor exercises (some of them familiar to me from my back therapy) that might well help if done religiously. Staying with them is the challenge. You could ask why I am not down in the floor doing them right now, instead of pecking on this Macbook. This computer is just so seductive.

Another article that caught my attention was from the Mayo Clinic, and it was entitled "Belly fat in men: Why weight loss matters."(February 2011.) In a Q and A, Dr. Michael Jensen, an endocrinologist,  presented a more focused approach to the war on belly fat. In response to the question of how to get rid of it, he offer these two courses:

* Reduce calories: "Slim down your portion sizes. Replace your usual fare with healthy foods that contain fewer calories. At restaurants, share with your buddies -- or eat half your meal and take the rest home for another day."

* Increase physical activity: "For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, in addition to strength training. You may need to do more to lose weight and keep it off. If you can't set aside time for longer workouts, try shorter spurts of activity throughout the day. Start with a walk after dinner or a game of catch with your kids."

What I am wondering is if the more leisurely approach suggested in that final sentence isn't more appropriate for many seniors (like me) who've had heart surgery and have no cartilage in one of their knees. But the idea of adding on to the walking -- some light weights, floor exercises, a refreshing swim -- certainly makes sense.

Incidentally, this Mayo Clinic doc said that sit-ups (often the presumed cure-all for belly flab) can "help make your abdominal muscles stronger, but spot exercises alone won't specifically reduce belly fat. The best way to shrink your waist size is to lower your total body fat through healthy eating and regular physical activity."

Okay, maybe when I work up enough courage, I will find a tape measure and post my waist size. Then I could try various belly-fat-reduction strategies and record changes in waist size as evidence of progress. Sounds like a plan. For certain, I will continue walking, taking time to watch the birds and the cloud formations.

© Robert G. Holland 2013


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