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In our quest to get healthy, and fight the battle of the bulge, it's beneficial to understand why body fat is an important factor for weight loss and health. Fat is lighter by volume than lean body tissue. For example, a 'cup' of fat is lighter than a 'cup' of muscle. This explains why increased physical exercise (which builds muscle) may actually cause weight gain rather than weight loss - at least to begin with. We focus too much on the numbers of the scale. Letting the number dictate if we need lose a few pounds or whether we can eat whatever we want. A healthier approach would be to learn your body fat percentage as well as how fat affects your health. Do you have any idea what your body fat is? If you understand a little more about body fat rather than focus on your weight, you may have a better chance at winning this battle. Fat is metabolically less active than muscle. Meaning, it needs less calories to sustain it, than muscle. This is why body fat percentage is so important for weight control. The higher your percentage of fat (and the smaller your percentage of muscle) the fewer calories you need to maintain your weight and therefore the easier it is to gain weight! Body weight may be divided into three types: bones, muscle and fat. In a healthy female of average weight, bones make up 12 percent of total body weight, muscle/lean tissue about 35 percent and body fat about 27 percent. The remaining body weight is skin, connective tissue, tendons, blood, organs and so forth. Body fat percentage is quite simply the percentage of the total body that is fat. A healthy body fat is different for Women and Men. Women have a higher percentage of body fat than men. Fat is essential for reproduction and therefore fat stores are maintained on the female body in case of pregnancy. Adequate levels of fat are also necessary for ovulation - it's known that girls don't begin to menstruate until their bodies are composed of at least 17% fat. It is generally accepted that men should have less than 18% total body fat and women 23% or less, However, experts suggest that an excess is not particularly hazardous to health until an individual accumulates 35%(men) and 40% (women) total body fat. The higher your percentage of fat above average levels, the higher your health risk for weight-related illness, like heart disease, high blood pressure, gallstones, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers.
Everyone stores their body fat according to their individual genetic code. Hereditary characteristics pretty much decide where you will accumulate your fat. Women typically store it around their hips and thighs and Men are more prone to the abdomen. Where our fat is stored is also important - especially for health. In simple terms, the more fat we have around our middle (abdominal fat, or visceral fat) the worse for our health. Excess abdominal fat has a strong link to "syndrome X," the deadly quartet of high insulin, high sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Even in people who don't have all these problems, excess abdominal fat is associated with high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. All in all, abdominal fat is strongly linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke and is far more hazardous to health than lower-body fat. an unhealthy waist circumference is above 35 inches (women), or above 40 inches (men).
I am often asked if it is possible to spot reduce and the answer is NO. When you exercise your abs, the muscle tissue under the fat will become firm and make the overall appearance of your tummy look better. Therefore doing a ton of ab crunches will not reduce the quantity of fat in the area. To lose one pound of fat you need to have a deficit of 3500 calories. A safe long term way to lose body fat is by simply cutting some calories and exercising to burn more! By just reducing your caloric intake by 250 calories a day (skip that afternoon muffin) and moving your body to burn 250 calories (take a brisk half hour walk) you will lose a pound a week. Your blood sugar drops with just a 1-pound fat loss.
Your heart, which is the size of your closed fist, is a small, overworked muscle, pumping 24/7. And for every extra pound of fat you carry, your body has to grow seven new miles of blood vessels-- primarily capillaries but also small arteries (arterioles) and small veins (venules) -- and your heart has to work that much harder. Put on fifty extra pounds requires 350 miles of new blood vessels. .The good news is the opposite is true. For every pound of fat you lose, your body sheds seven miles of blood vessels. They just re-absorb, break down, and get excreted. Eat healthy and in moderation, exercise at least 30 minutes every day and lose your body fat permanently. Sure, it is a slow process but your body and heart will thank you!

Marla Arndt is a Guelph based Personal Trainer. She can be reached via her website at

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