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Belly fat, in addition to being unattractive, is unhealthy. Belly fat, more technically known as “visceral fat” collects within the belly and around vital organs, and has been found to be more dangerous than the fat found in other areas of the body, such as the hips and thighs.

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This visceral (around the organs) fat increases the risk of type-2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, lowered levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein also known as “good cholesterol”), insulin resistance, and sleep apnea.

Excess belly fat may also contribute to certain types of cancers. For the average man, maintaining a waist size of less than 40 inches may be optimal. Dr. Mehmet Oz has suggested a waist size of no greater than 35 inches.

An increase in belly fat is assumed to be a normal part of aging, but it isn’t and does not have to be. It is true that our metabolism begins to slow as we get older, and that we need fewer calories to maintain our weight. But those grandfathers and uncles with ever-increasing waists got that way by reducing their activity and taking in too many calories. Not just by aging.

By maintaining an active lifestyle (get off the couch!) and subsequently maintaining calorie-burning muscle, it is possible to fight a growing belly. It’s much simpler to avoid gaining belly fat than it is to take it off.

Although genetics can play a role in the shape of a person’s body, that is, where fat tends to collect, excess calories and a sedentary or under-active lifestyle play a far greater role in weight gain.

Belly fat, unlike the fat located in other parts of the human body, has been found to be metabolically active, meaning that it acts like an independent organ. So besides being unsightly, it becomes a kind of its own living and active part of the body, secreting blood clotting chemicals. Inflammatory proteins, fatty acids, and cortisone, a hormone linked to heart diseases and diabetes. And it is doing this while in and around the vital organs, including the pancreas, liver, kidneys, stomach, and colon. In the case of women, this fat can also surround their reproductive organs.

Belly fat causes inflammation and an increase in fats in the bloodstream, also known as lipids, which can collect within arteries and other blood vessels, causing the heart to work harder and/or not as well. Clogged arteries restrict the amount of oxygen-carrying blood flow to the heart. All of these are the ingredients for a heart attack.

Also a precursor to heart attack (and diabetes) is the insulin resistance caused by belly fat. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and then cleared by the liver. As it is cleared, fat is then formed within the liver, which causes the liver work harder to clear subsequent insulin. High levels of insulin can lead to heart attack and the onset of diabetes.

An increased waist size has been proven to be a good predictor of future heart disease. Additionally, there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of belly fat and the elevation of blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure greatly increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Belly fat has been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic, kidney, and colon cancer in men. It does the same for women, but also puts them at greater risk of breast and uterine cancers.

Belly fat should not be a part of life at any age, and certainly does not have to be an inevitable part of aging. Regular physical activity and sensible eating in the form of good, whole (unrefined or processed) foods, with reasonable portion control can go a long way on the road to maintaining a healthy weight and a lowered risk of disease.

Aging and even retirement do not have to be the foundation for an expanding waist. Retirement should be a time to enjoy life and the activities for which it was hard to find time while working. Why should it be spent fighting disease that might be prevented by making relatively simple choices to improve one’s health?

Belly fat is unsightly, unhealthy, and quite simply dangerous. The health benefits of reducing and even eliminating belly fat are undisputable. Food is fuel, providing the energy and nutrients required to keep the human body healthy and well functioning. When food and drink become recreation and when poor choices are made regarding what and how much is eaten, the risk to health is huge.

Loss of visceral fat will result in a reduced risk of each of the following: heart attack and other heart diseases, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), stroke, diabetes and insulin resistance, pancreatic, kidney, and colorectal cancers, and high blood pressure. The health benefits of belly fat loss in men are proven. Lose that belly fat now and get back on the road to a longer, healthier, more enjoyable life.