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Ask Tufts Experts March 2011 Issue

Q: You say not to “suck in your gut” when measuring one’s waist. But what if your belly protrudes because of lax muscles rather than fat, which can’t be “sucked in” as much?

Answer :  A Studies that have focused on the dangers of a “big belly” point out that waist circumference is strongly associated with the presence of fat tissue surrounding the organs in the abdomen. Such “visceral” fat is thought to be more dangerous than fat elsewhere, under the skin. So, yes, it’s belly fat—not lax muscles—you should worry most about. Lax muscles can be attacked by exercise (such as sit-ups), whereas reducing belly fat usually requires a combination of exercise, dieting and weight loss; spot exercise alone won’t suffce.

To measure your waist, run a tape measure around your bare abdomen just above the hipbone and pull until the tape fts snugly without pushing into your skin. Make sure the tape measure is level around your waist. Relax, exhale and check the measurement. For women, waist circumference greater than 35 inches is a red fag; for men, it’s 40 inches.

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