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Why it is important for men to tackle their midlife obesity

Recently several high profile overweight men, including Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson and the celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, have lost dramatic amounts of weight because they feared they were going to die.

Most people in the UK increase their weight by half a kilogram every year from the age of 20 up to 70. Eventually this year on year weight gain can lead to obesity. According to the latest statistics from the Health Survey for England a third of men between the ages of 45 and 54 are obese, 46% are overweight and only one in five is normal weight.

The way men store fat in their body and gain weight in middle age is associated with series health problems. These can be reversed if the correct steps are taken in time.

How do men store fat in their body?

Men and women store fat differently. Men tend to store excess fat in the upper body, especially in the abdominal region. Women tend to store fat under the skin, around the breasts, buttocks and thighs.

Fat stored around the abdomen is called visceral fat and causes the belly to protrude. It forms the characteristic male ‘beer belly’.

Why is belly fat dangerous?

Visceral fat is body fat that is stored deep within the abdominal cavity surrounding several important internal organs including the liver, pancreas and intestines. Visceral fat is essentially an endocrine organ that secretes hormones and a host of other chemicals linked to diseases that commonly afflict older adults. Belly fat is associated with a reduced life expectancy and the following health conditions:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure, stroke and heart disease
  • Dementia
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue and sleep problems including sleep apnoea
  • Arthritis and joint problems

At what point is action needed?

There are two important measurements you need to watch if you are male – your waist circumference and your Body Mass Index (BMI).

To measure your waist circumference:

  • find the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips 
  • wrap a tape measure around your waist, midway between these points 
  • breathe out naturally before taking the measurement 

Regardless of your height or BMI, you should try to lose weight if your waist is:

94cm (37ins) or more for men

To calculate your BMI:

The easiest thing to do is to use an online BMI calculate to work out if you are a healthy weight. You can find one here at the NHS website. For most adults, an ideal BMI is between 19 to 25.

What to do if you are overweight?

Weight loss takes time, commitment and change in life style. It also involves a two-pronged attack i.e. changing your diet and taking more exercise.

What kind of diet is best?

Research has shown that moving to a more Mediterranean style diet will help you to lose weight and reduce your risk of major disease. This means:

  • Cutting down on sugar, white starchy food like white bread, pasta, potatoes and other processed food.
  • Switching to eating wholegrain foods such as lentils, beans, barley, wild rice, quinoa, oats, nuts and seeds, and bread made from rye or wholegrain flour.
  • Eating more vegetables and fruit.
  • Eating more healthy fats and oils such as olive or rapeseed oil.
  • Eating moderate amounts of dairy foods and lean protein such as salmon and chicken.
  • Reducing alcohol intake to recommended safe levels.
  • Reducing portion sizes.

What about exercise?

Regular daily exercise such as 30 minutes of running, swimming, cycling or fast walking can help to improve your cardiovascular fitness and help weight loss. Other types of exercise such as yoga, Pilates and weight lifting are good for overall health too.

A few words of encouragement

Weight loss has traditionally been regarded as a feminine activity. However, research has shown that if men understand the science behind weight loss, take pride in excelling at the technical challenges of losing weight and see it as a sporting endeavour they will be successful at shedding those extra pounds.

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