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Why the Spare Tire Happens and What It Means for Men

While often termed differently, muffin top, belly fat and spare tire are all essentially the same thing – excess abdominal fat. No matter what it’s called, it can be a frustration for many men. One of the most difficult areas to slim, the abdomen contains two types of fat which each require different tactics to tone the area. We asked Brent Wilson, a registered dietitian at INTEGRIS, Health to share his advice on how the spare tire affects men and what can be done to get rid of it once and for all. 

What causes belly fat?

Fat around the stomach and waist can be caused by a variety of factors. “The spare tire is excess body fat stored around the midsection when our calorie balance is off,” Wilson explains. Caused by an imbalance between calorie intake and output, poor diet and insufficient activity are the main culprits of belly fat.

Inactivity during the day, worsened by sitting at a desk or in front of the television for long periods of time, is also a large contributor to one’s spare tire. Even stress can be a factor as it can impact the hormones that create fat.

Subcutaneous Fat vs. Visceral Fat

“Subcutaneous fat hibernates just beneath your skin and you can grasp it with your fingers,” Wilson says. “Visceral fat stows away deep in your abdomen around your organs.” These organs can include your intestines and stomach. Visceral fat is more dangerous than its subcutaneous counterpart as it can produce cytokines, or inflammation, that can damage those organs.

What does the spare tire mean for men?

Health risks commonly go hand-in-hand with the spare tire. “Excess belly fat increases your risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and metabolic syndrome,” Wilson explains. The chemicals created by excess visceral fat can increase the risk for heart disease or diabetes. As men age, it becomes more important to exercise regularly as their bodies tend to lose muscle mass more easily.

How to Get Rid of the Spare Tire

When it comes to shedding the spare tire, lifestyle changes must be made. “Ultimately, it comes down to the decisions we have to make on a daily basis,” Wilson says. He explains these decisions become increasingly more difficult to make due to the convenience of highly processed foods that include substantial amounts of fat, sugar and calories. Combined with the typical low level of activity required by many jobs, it becomes more important to make conscious decisions to be physically active. 

Healthy Goals

The first step toward eliminating the spare tire is to set healthy and reasonable goals. Shedding abdominal fat takes time and should not be treated as a race. So, how do you track your progress? The number on the scale doesn’t always represent the amount of fat and muscle mass a person carries, making it a less than optimal choice for measurement. Many people prefer to track their Body Mass Index (BMI), although Wilson advises against this. Instead, he opts for a more specific source of measurement.

“The BMI will ultimately give you a general idea of where your weight should be; however, it can be misleading as it doesn’t take muscle mass into account,” he says. “The best thing would be to have your body fat percentage tested and retested after a few months of implementing physical activity and healthy eating.” The INTEGRIS Health Weight Loss Center provides several options for both surgical and non-surgical weight loss services, including seminars and assistance with nutrition.  

It is also important to set a healthy daily calorie goal. “Ultimately, we need to lower our calorie intake,” Wilson says. “I would encourage keeping a food log to identify where the most calories are coming from in your diet. Then, try replacing high calorie food and beverages with lower calorie options.” He suggests the app MyFitnessPal as a way to track your dietary choices.

Exercises to Burn Abdominal Fat

When exercising to burn belly fat, it’s important to create a healthy mix of cardio and strength training. When targeting the spare tire, especially if you don’t go to the gym on a regular basis, you should start slowly. Wilson suggests beginning by walking or cycling and slowly increasing the duration and intensity of cardio. Make sure to include stretches in your routine to keep your muscles limber and limit soreness. He advises setting a goal of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

When it comes to choosing between cardio and weights, he says “both can be effective if used properly. The key is to get your heart pumping, so you can start burning the fat stored around the belly. Cardio is great at this. Weights can also work well, as long as you are keeping your heart rate elevated. Rather than resting in between sets of weight lifting, try using your rest time to keep your heart rate up with things like rowing, walking, or cycling.”

Stay committed to your exercise goals by creating a workout calendar or setting a joint fitness goal with your friends or family. For those who need to set a specific time to work out or thrive on extroverted activities, try joining a group fitness or boot camp style workout.

Dietary Changes to Get Rid of the Spare Tire

A healthy diet is the perfect complement to your new exercise regime. It can also be the most difficult part of the process. Essentially, it’s important to choose lower calorie options, skip processed foods, limit sugar and practice portion control.

“Choose lean protein sources such as eggs, nuts, fish and chicken,” Wilson recommends. “Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, which contain fewer calories per cup than most other foods. The fiber in them will keep you feeling full for longer so you take in fewer calories throughout the day.”

It is vital that men strive to achieve a healthy lifestyle as they age. Eliminating the spare tire is a crucial factor in the process of lowering health risks and staying in good physical shape. Contact an INTEGRIS Health physician today to assess your health needs.

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