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In search of washboard abs

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The combination of diet and exercise is the best prescription for weight reduction under normal situations. We did not develop 'pot bellies' overnight so to try to lose them overnight is unwise. Moderate changes in our body function and lifestyle are more tolerable and more easily made into permanent habits that can be maintained.

The causes of being overweight are quite complex. It could be a combination of genetics, behaviour and lifestyle factors. These factors along with individual differences also determine how easily we lose or gain weight. If you are experiencing serious weight challenges, a medical examination may be necessary to establish underlying problems which should guide the weight management interventions.

Cut back on calories

People who would like to lose weight should include regular aerobic exercises in their daily schedules along with the appropriate nutrition management. Many of us underestimate how many calories we consume and in fact, many of us eat more than we really need. In addition, many of us are in such poor physical condition that it will take quite some time to increase our activity level to the point where we will use the stored energy (fat) to reduce the excess weight.

Weight loss must be accompanied by a relatively permanent change in our body composition for it to be controlled. Weight loss must occur gradually. It should not exceed one to two pounds each week to prevent the weight from being regained quickly thereafter. Following weight loss only those people who continue to exercise are able to keep their weight at the acceptable level. A significant increase in physical activity and a negative caloric balance or a combination of the two is the way to manage your weight successfully.

Steps topot-belly reduction

1. People who have not been exercising and are in poor physical shape should start an exercise programme with about 15 minutes of aerobic exercises, three times each week.

2. Next, gradually increase the duration by approximately five minutes each week and the frequency by one day each week during the first three to four weeks.

3. You then need to work up to a level of at least 45 minutes at a time, five to six times each week.

4. A combination of aerobic and strength-training exercises will reduce excess weight successfully. The aerobic exercises should consist of gentle rhythmic exercises of large muscle groups to expend at least 300 calories each session. The strength-training exercise increases muscle mass and the ability to use fat to produce energy during exercise. Aerobic activities that are performed at a moderate intensity provide more energy from fats.

So, in order to reduce the size of our belly, we need to do more aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, running or cycling. When we exercise, we mobilise fats from fat stores located throughout the body, not just from fat cells located over the exercising muscle.

By complementing aerobic exercises with abdominal exercises the strength and tone of the muscles and shape of our abdomen improve.

Dr Kenneth Gardner is an exercise physiologist at Holiday Hills Research Center; email: