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Spare tyre, muffin top, love handles, whatever you call it, middle-age spread isn’t a myth. Women are most susceptible to it at 38 and men at 44, a study has found
Dr Sally Norton, a leading NHS weight-loss surgeon and creator of vavista.com, a weight-loss website, says: “Most
middle-aged people show a steady weight gain of 1-2lbs a year.”
But the good news is you can counteract your thickening midriff by following these tips from health and fitness experts.
1. Go back to basics on portion sizes
“Use a smaller plate and don’t have second helpings,” says Sally Norton.
“And use these easy tips to help work out portions: a meat portion (3-4oz) equates to the size of the palm of your hand, while a portion of carbs, fruit or veg is about the size of a fist.”
2. Keep active
A study from Johns Hopkins University in the US found that older people who take even moderate exercise dramatically lower their risk of heart disease and diabetes by lowering their abdominal fat.
Start by walking at least half an hour a day, five to seven times a week. Initially, this can be broken down into three blocks of 10 minutes.
To increase your stamina, you can introduce interval training where you alternate between two paces – for instance, two minutes of fast walking followed by two minutes of slow.
And personal trainer Scott Laidler urges us to take a look at our lifestyle choices.
“Walking, cycling, dancing – even housework – could be enough to burn a significant amount of fat,” he says.
“A game of badminton, for example, can burn up to 200 calories in just 40 minutes while a game of golf burns around 238 calories an hour.”
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3. Sleep well
According to Carin Hume, diabetes specialist dietitian at the London Medical Clinic, research consistently shows that getting less than seven hours’ sleep per night increases the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
“And, when we are sleep deprived, we make poor food choices, such as craving refined carbohydrate foods. But climbing into bed early with your iPad doesn’t count, as artificial light from electronic devices stimulates the brain and keeps you awake.
“Ideally, switch off all screens at least 30 minutes before going to bed.”
4. Deal with stress
One of the reasons fat accumulates around the midriff is the presence of the stress hormone cortisol, says women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com).
Adrenaline and cortisol are released by the brain to provide energy to allow us to react swiftly to dangerous situations.
But a side effect is the creation of fat and glucose that has nowhere to go if it’s not used up. This tends to settle around the tummy.
Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t distinguish between real threat and daily stresses such as running late for a meeting, money worries or overwork. Over time the result is a build-up of fat that many of us never really burn off.
By eliminating as much stress as possible from your daily routine, you’ll reduce the levels of cortisol released.
Also, consider taking up yoga. Research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US found that the popular exercise helps prevent middle-age spread and assists weight loss in 45 to 55-year-olds.
5. Rethink your diet
Processed foods, especially cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, white bread, rice and yogurts with sugar all contribute to a thickening waistline, according to Dr Glenville.
“Try choosing high-fibre alternatives, such as oats, wholemeal bread and brown rice, which release energy slowly so it’s less likely to go straight to the midriff,” she says.
A study in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition showed middle-aged people who ate the most white bread and other highly refined foods saw their waistlines expand three times more than those who consumed the same number of daily calories from less processed foods.
Over a year that’s about half an inch. But don’t think that shunning fat will help keep you trim.
To burn off weight effectively, you need to eat the right type of fat.
That means adding olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish and eggs to your weekly shopping list.
6. Don’t sit down too much
Carin Hume says being sedentary for too long decreases the activity of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which helps us burn fat – as well being important for bone mineral density. She says people should embrace opportunities to stand, such as not sitting on public transport and walking while talking on the phone.
Devices such as the Jawbone wrist band (£64 from amazon.co.uk ) vibrate if someone is sedentary for longer than the time specified by the wearer.
7. Have breakfast late
Health coach Michele Kaye ( michelekaye.com ) says you should avoid eating at least three hours before going to bed and then delay breakfast so that you are fasting for around 16-18 hours. This makes the body tap into its glycogen stores for energy which, in turn, makes it burn fat.
“The effects are further magnified if you exercise before breaking your fast,” she says.
Michele adds that delaying breakfast in this way can make all the difference to shedding excess pounds. It can also help reduce cravings for sugary foods.
8. Only drink at the weekend
A study by University College London found that regularly drinking a bottle of wine over the course of an evening could add an extra four inches of fat to your waist in a year.
James Duigan, celebrity trainer and author of Clean & Lean Flat Tummy Fast! (Kyle Cathie, £12.99), describes alcohol as a fat bomb for the tummy. “It’s pure sugar, which goes straight to your waist and stops you burning all other fat until the booze has been processed,” he says. Try to have four alcohol-free days a week.
9. Build muscle
We begin to lose muscle mass naturally at around 40, says Scott Laidler.
“This is a problem because lean muscle tissue requires a lot of energy to maintain so, unless you eat less to equate for the muscle loss, you will begin to gain fat because you’ll have a calorie surplus.
“Regular strength training will help counteract this muscle loss. You can do this by using your own body weight (squats, lunges, press-ups, etc), resistance machines at the gym and kettle bells and free-weights.”
It might be worth investing in a couple of personal training sessions to be shown the right moves that will make a difference.
10. Eat protein at every meal
While the body can store fat and carbs, it can’t store protein. If you don’t eat enough of it regularly, the body will “take” protein from the muscles.
Eating protein at every meal will not only help maintain muscle mass but will keep you feeling fuller for longer, according to Sally Norton.
“Aim for around 100g of protein a day,” she says.
“As a rule of thumb, a chicken breast contain 25g, an egg 12g and a tin of tuna 40g.
“Cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, nuts and beans are also good sources.”