While many men yearn to have rock-hard abs, having a hard, fat stomach isn’t such a good thing. The hard truth is, if you have a hard and fat belly, as opposed to a hard and flat one, you could be heading for big trouble. Having excess stomach fat around your midsection that is hard to the touch is often a precursor to serious illness.
Studies indicate that having a waist size greater than 40 inches in circumference puts men at a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. As Jean-Pierre Despres, Ph.D., professor at Laval University points out, a hard, fat stomach is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Despres says that this type of hard belly fat puts you at even a greater risk for serious health issues, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes, than having high cholesterol or even smoking. There are a number of things that contribute to a hard “beer belly,” and ironically drinking a lot of beer is not necessarily the main one.
Why Your “Beer Belly” is Hard
A fat, but firm, belly is the result of an overabundance of visceral fat, a type of adipose tissue that lies deep inside your midsection, wrapped around your internal organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which resides just below the skin, visceral fat secretes hormones and other compounds that increases inflammation and the risk of disease.Visceral fat accumulates in the area between your abdominal cavity and internal organs, becoming tightly packed, so there is not enough room left for the fat or organs to move. As visceral fat accumulates it makes your abdominal wall protrude, giving the appearance of having a “gut,” and resulting in a hard, fat belly.
While the visceral fat itself is not actually hard, your abdominal tissues are. This, combined with the lack of space between your belly and organs, makes your stomach feel hard to the touch. Whereas a hard, fat belly is the result of a buildup of visceral fat, a soft, fat belly is the result of subcutaneous fat located just below the surface of the skin. The stomach of men with subcutaneous belly fat will jiggle, feel soft to the touch and can be pinched.
Lack of Exercise
Aging and Hormones
Hormones drive a woman to store fat in her hips and thighs, particularly during their child-bearing years to aid in pregnancy. As men age they are more prone to developing big bellies, but the reasons why men are wired to begin storing fat in their stomach is not clear, as it does not provide any known physiological benefits.
Muscle mass helps maintain your metabolism and keeps your body burning calories at a steady rate. When muscle is lost, your metabolism declines and excess calories are stored as fat, typically going straight to a man’s stomach.
After age 40 a man’s natural decrease in testosterone levels causes the body to store excess calories as visceral fat. Additionally, without some form of resistance training, aging results in men naturally loosing muscle mass at the rate of about one percent per year, or 10 percent per decade, after age 30. This loss of muscle mass causes a reduction in metabolism, further adding to weight gain that typically goes straight to the belly in men.
The health risks associated with a fat, hard stomach exist even if you are not overweight. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who had a “beer belly,” but who were otherwise healthy and of normal weight, still had an increased risk of heart disease over individuals who did not have excess belly fat.
While a little soft subcutaneous fat is not that harmful, most people carrying large amounts of subcutaneous fat also have larger deposits of visceral fat. According to research performed at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri the increased health risks occur because visceral fat is known to produce high levels of a hormone that has been related to inflammatory responses and insulin resistance.
Other Lifestyle Choices
Smoking produces numerous health risks, not the least of which is visceral fat, by slowing down your metabolism and weakening your immune system.Getting too little, or too much, sleep can result in visceral fat gain, According to a 2010 study published by the Sleep Research Society, researchers discovered that constantly getting less than six hours or more than nine hours of sleep a night resulted in higher amounts of abdominal fat in people under 40 years of age.
Chronic stress is a contributor to visceral fat gain. Long-term stress has been show to increase the levels of cortisol, a hormone that leads to inflammation and increased fat stores.
How to Lose Hard Belly Fat
If you have a hard, fat stomach you do not need to become overly concerned, but you should take it as a warning you need to make some substantial lifestyle modifications. Losing just five to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your overall visceral fat stores by 25 to 40 percent. While dieting will almost always produce the opposite of the desired effect, actually causing you to gain back more fat once you go off the diet, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is the key to sustained fat loss.Changing what you eat to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetable, whole grains and lean meats and fish while reducing the saturated fats and sugar will result in both subcutaneous and visceral fat being drastically reduced. Additionally, getting just 20 minutes of sustained exercise three to four times a week will not only help shed the fat stored in your body, it will help strengthen your heart muscle as well.
Dr. Barbara Kahn, professor at Harvard Medical School, says research does suggest there may be physiological mechanisms involved in targeting visceral adiposity. The research suggests sodium-linked glucose, or blood sugar, transport inhibitors, used to treat diabetes, have the ability to help you lose weight.
Dietary Habits and Belly Fat
Consuming too much of any type of food will result in weight gain, but there are certain foods that can lead directly to an accumulation of visceral fat. If you have a serious habit of consuming a lot of sugary drinks, like soda pop and energy drinks, that contain a lot of empty calories, you are more likely to have larger visceral-fat deposits.
Eating unrefined foods, including whole grains, and eliminating or reducing processed, sugary foods, including soda and yes, beer, will help you lose your hard belly fat. Changing your diet is easier than you may think. Here are a few tips:
• Replace sugary drinks with water and lightly-sweetened tea.
• Eat whole grain bread and cereal instead of white-flour products.
• Switch from white to brown rice.
• Swap out white-flour pasta for whole-wheat pasta or quinoa.
• Eat in-season fruit for dessert instead of desserts made with lots of sugar, saturated fats and white flour.
• Choose chicken and fish instead of fatty cuts of red meat.
• Switch high-fat dairy products for low-fat varieties.
• Eat heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds and some fish, like salmon.
Lack of Exercise
Physically inactivity is a primary reason people gain weight, particularly visceral fat. The good news is visceral fat is highly responsive to tried-and-true diet and exercise techniques. Exercising just 20 minutes a day, three to four times a week, will produce major benefits.You don’t have to become a marathon runner, as just walking at a brisk pace burns as many calories as running for the same distance. Some form of resistance training, from simple push and pull-ups to lifting weights, is highly effective in counteracting the loss of muscle mass that happens from both the natural aging process and a lack of adequate exercise. Last, but not least, exercise is one of the best ways to release stress, and reduce the levels of cortisol in the body.