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An apple a day may keep the doctor away, unless you’re referring to your body type. People who carry extra weight on their waist (so-called apples) are at a greater risk of death from every health condition from cancer to heart disease than those who wear excess padding on their hips (pear types).
That’s according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that shows the bigger your waist is -- regardless of how much you weigh -- the greater your risk of death. The report, from the American Cancer Society, adds even more heft to evidence that where you carry your weight is just as important as the number on your scale.
Past research has shown that having a big belly -- even if you’re of normal weight -- is associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels and heart disease. This could be due to the fact that fat around the waist, known as visceral fat, is believed to be more dangerous than the kind that gives us saddlebags and love handles. That’s because, unlike cellulite-causing subcutaneous fat, which lies just below the skin, visceral fat is buried beneath our muscles and surrounds vital organs, like the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Researchers believe it may also impact liver function and cholesterol levels. According to the research article, more than 50 percent of men and 70 percent of women between the ages of 50 and 80 are abdominally obese (34.6 inches or more for women and 40.2 inches or more for men).
To test the effects of waist size on health, researchers examined followed 48,500 men and 56,343 women over the age of 50 for nine years. During that time, a total of 9,315 men and 5,332 women died. After adjusting for other risk factors, the researchers found that men with a waist circumference of 47 inches or more and women whose waist measured 42 inches or more were twice as likely to die during that time period, regardless of whether their BMI was in the normal, overweight or obese category. In fact, the team found that women with a normal BMI but a very large waist had the greatest risk of death. Researchers aren’t sure why. The most common causes of death for people with large waists were respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The good news is research at Duke Medical Center suggests that staying active can help keep visceral fat at bay. While we all tend to gain weight around our middle as we get older (especially post-menopausal women), being sedentary can worsen the effect. According to Cris Slentz, Ph.D., lead author of the study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, his control group that did not exercise saw an 8.6 percent increase in visceral fat in just six months. His study also showed that a modest exercise program, such as walking for 30 minutes six days a week, can help prevent belly fat buildup, while a vigorous exercise program, like running 15 to 20 miles a week, can actually reverse it.
So if ever you needed a reason to flatten your tummy and get active, we think you’ve got a pretty good one right here. If you need some fitness inspiration, check out iVillage’s article on best summer workouts.
Are you an apple or a pear? Chime in below.