At perhaps no other time in our recent human history have we more seriously considered the many ways that being overweight impacts our health. This year has shown us that obesity puts us at significant risk of severe health complications from the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
But recent research further compounds the health concerns, especially for men. Indeed, new studies have shown that excess abdominal fat — what we refer to as a “spare tire” — puts a man at increased risk of dying from prostate cancer. Testosterone production is also at risk when a man has an abundance of belly fat, which puts him at a greater chance of battling depression and low libido. While the spare tire certainly isn’t good news for men’s health, knowing what’s at stake can help make a change for the better.
When it comes to abdominal fat in men and the risk of death from prostate cancer, recent research from the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford sheds light on the possible connection. In a study of more than 200,000 men, researchers found that although there didn’t appear to be a strong correlation between death from prostate cancer and overall body mass index, there was a link between prostate cancer death and “central adiposity,” or fat that was significantly concentrated around the abdomen.
As the study revealed, men who presented in the upper 25% as measured by their waist circumference were up to 35% more likely to die of prostate cancer than men who were considered to be in the lower 25% for waist circumference. As compared with overall BMI, which was less conclusive, the ability to identify risk according to where excess weight presents itself is beneficial for both the public and the medical community.
In addition to an increased risk of prostate cancer death due to excess belly fat, men who carry too much abdominal weight tend to suffer more frequently from decreased testosterone levels. Contrary to what many believe, the hormone testosterone isn’t just the thing that makes a man seemingly “manly”– it’s an essential component of his overall health and sense of well-being. Belly fat converts naturally-made testosterone into estrogen, which promotes the development and maintenance of female characteristics. Excessive estrogen can then cause a host of problems in men, including depression and lower libido.
One question that may be on men’s minds is: Why does the location of the fat matter? Simply put, the weight that’s concentrated in the abdomen is riskier, health-wise, than if it were located elsewhere on the body. This is because belly fat also consists of something called “visceral fat,” which is located deep inside the abdominal cavity and surrounds internal organs — something that fat on the backside or arms, for example, doesn’t do.
But there is good news. Losing excess weight, especially in the abdominal area, is helpful in many ways. Not only can it reduce prostate cancer death risk and help restore testosterone to normal levels, but getting rid of belly fat can also help a man reduce his risk of death from just about every premature cause — including cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
So, you know excess belly fat is a danger to your health, and it’s a good idea to lose it. Now the question is: How? It’s likely you already know the answer to this, but it bears repeating — diet and exercise are key. On the diet front, drinking too much alcohol can be a significant contributor to men’s spare tire. So cutting down on or eliminating those unnecessary drinks can go a long way toward achieving the goal.
After that, a diet rich in whole foods — especially vegetables, fruits and whole grains — is an excellent place to focus. Once you’ve got the diet under control, consider heart-pumping cardiovascular exercise for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week, to round out the approach. You don’t need a gym or fancy equipment, just an ability to stick to it. Your belly and your whole body will thank you for the commitment.
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