Busting the sit-up myth…

“What can I do about my spare tyre, muffin top or jelly belly?”

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get from class members and magazine readers of all ages.

So why is it that we get the battle of the bulge as we age and why should we be bothered about it?

Nature deals us a cruel blow as the years tick by; hormonal changes, loss of muscle and increased fat all combine to cause a triple whammy effect.

Reduced muscle mass might not seem a big deal, but year on year we lose 1-2% and that means we have less of the calorie-burning dense tissue which leads to a reduction in metabolic rate. Stronger, denser muscles burn more calories even when you’re at rest.

The good news is you don’t need to be a gym bunny to take control; working against a load is vital but you can use your own body weight and resistance bands are a brilliant way to stay strong. The stronger your muscles, the more aerobic activity you can do, whether that’s brisk walking, jogging, dancing, cycling or swimming.

Only by reducing overall fat will you see a difference in abdominal fat.

Sticking to a healthy diet with plenty of protein, good portion control, avoiding processed food and sugar is also vital. But watch out for the hazard of dieting without exercising. You may lose weight in the first few weeks but this might not be just fat mass, you’ll be losing muscle mass too unless you keep up with the resistance exercises. This is why so many people fall into the trap of yo-yo dieting with weight loss and gain.

The easiest thing to do to get you started is to walk for 30 minutes on at least five days a week – this can be broken down into blocks of ten minutes at first. Then try to alternate between walking at a moderate pace then at a faster pace; 30 seconds at first, building up to two minutes of each.

Then you really need to do some strengthening exercises twice a week at least. If you’re gymphobic you can lift weights at home or use resistance bands and build up to doing three sets of ten repetitions of each exercise before progressing onto a stronger band.

Around the house use every opportunity to do some vigorous housework such as cleaning windows and vacuuming – just make sure it’s energetic enough to get your heart beating faster.

Although everyone thinks that sit-ups will give them a flat tum, they won’t work unless you target the underlying fat first.

Once you are focusing on improving muscle tone then a better alternative is the plank, which works 100% of the abdominal muscles compared to 64% for sit-ups. You’re also less likely to strain your neck, which is common when doing sit ups; even the US army have banned them from their exercise regimes!

Another thing to watch out for is stress – this raises levels of cortisol and adrenaline and can lead to higher blood glucose and insulin resistance. This can lead to you laying down more abdominal fat which can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes. It’s easier said than done but addressing the stress in your life could have a positive impact on your tum.

Designed with busy lives in mind, here’s a quick routine showing some simple resistance exercises you can do in five minutes to help battle the belly bulge.

As always, if you’re starting out of any new exercise programme, do check with a medical professional first especially if you have any health issues.

Check out this video for easy instructions.

 

Julie Robinson

About Julie Robinson

I'm a specialist exercise teacher and founder of Move it or Lose it - a not-for-profit company helping older people to age well. I’m passionate about helping older people (and their grown-up children) to have the knowledge and confidence to keep moving. As an ex-teacher of PE I am now training an army of instructors to get out into their local communities to encourage older people to have fun and exercise together… think Zumba with Zimmers! Follow me on Facebook moveitorloseit.fbfollow.me or Twitter @moveitorloseit1