This article was contributed by Lisa Ball.

When your aim is weight loss, seeing the pounds come off when you get on the scales each week is usually the focus. However, having a set of bathroom scales, it can be a temptation to weigh yourself more frequently; it is not uncommon for people to step on them daily. Doing so can be futile to your efforts though. Rarely would you see any significant loss of fat mass from one day to the next and owing to differences in fluid balance from day-to-day, your weight fluctuates for this reason. Seeing your weight creep up by half a pound from the previous day can be enough to dishearten anyone, making you question whether the changes you have made to your diet and activity levels have been worth it. While the answer to this is that they have been absolutely worth it, as you’re in it for the long haul to change your lifestyle for the better for good, this can be hard to see when you are fixated on the scales. This is just one reason why measuring waist circumference is beneficial when your sights are set on weight loss.

Abdominal fat and chronic disease risk

Losing pounds is only part of the story; losing inches is the other. Not only does loss of inches round your waist improve your appearance, but doing so offers significant benefits to your health. There is a wealth of evidence that supports the fact that the amount of fat stored around the abdomen is an indicator of someone’s risk of obesity related diseases; people with an “apple shape” are more at risk than those with a “pear shape” who store more of their fat around their hips and thighs. Type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, not to mention mortality, are all higher in the presence of abdominal obesity. The Nurses’ Health Study, which involved more than 44,000 participants, showed that after 16 years those who had a waist circumference of at least 35 inches were twice as likely to die from heart disease or cancer as those with a measurement of less than 28 inches. This research also demonstrated that this held when their body mass index was the same and even when participants had what would be classed as a healthy BMI (less than 25Kg/m2), they were more likely to have died from heart disease if their waist circumference was larger. The risk was three times higher in healthy weight women with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches.

Metabolic differences of fat

So what is it about abdominal fat that makes it so detrimental to health? The answer lies in the fact that the fat around the abdomen is metabolically different to that deposited on the hips, thighs or elsewhere in the body. Abdominal fat is more metabolically active, so releases hormones and inflammatory agents which have a negative impact on levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, triglycerides (another type of fat which is detrimental to the health of the heart and circulation), blood sugars and blood pressure. Therefore not only are over a third of Americans now obese, but the majority also have abdominal obesity, explaining why heart disease remains the number one killer and why rates of type 2 diabetes are soaring. While the complications of diabetes, which include blindness, nerve damage and erectile dysfunction, can be managed with treatment, if left unchecked they can significantly impair quality of life. Seeking to lower waist circumference as part of any weight management program can, however, help to prevent the co-morbidities associated with obesity.

Aiming to reduce waist circumference

According to the American Heart Association, women with a waist circumference greater than 35 inches and men with a measurement greater than 40 inches are at increased risk of health problems. Aiming to bring your waist circumference below these cut off points is therefore the ideal situation. However, if your starting measurement is way off the mark, it is important to take a realistic approach. Just as you might set yourself small goals of aiming to lose a pound of weight a week, apply the same rule when it comes to losing inches from your waist. As with weight, people lose inches at difference rates; measure your waist weekly or fortnightly and set a feasible target based on your own loss.

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Improve Running Performance with a Strong Core

by Daniel on September 11, 2012

While watching the Olympic runners this summer, I was impressed by their overall strength, muscle development, and amazing abs. As they propelled themselves forward, their legs moved almost independently below a stable center that had minimal movement. There was very little power wasted through side-to-side, up-and-down, or back-and-forth motion. Comparing their incredibly efficient and elegant form with that of the amateur runner, what are the Olympians doing differently? At least one of the main differences is the development of a high level of core stability through strengthening of the primary core muscles.

Primary Core Muscles

The primary core muscles that stabilize the pelvis and lumbar spine are:

Obliques: These muscles rotate your torso and help support your center during movement.

Rectus Abdominis: The ‘six-pack’ muscles that flex or curl the trunk of the body and run vertically down the abdomen.

Transversus Abdominis: The deepest of the abdominal muscles, which wrap horizontally around your center, provide support during movement.

Psoas Major & Iliacus: These are the hip flexor muscles, which lift the thigh toward the abdomen and limit excess motion of the hip joint.

Erector Spinae: This is a group of muscle pairs that run vertically the length of your back near the spine. These muscles support the spine and allow it to extend backwards.

The repeated pounding of running can cause lower back pain, particularly when you have weak abdominal or lower back muscles. Strengthening all the core muscles can help runners avoid this problem, and also can improve their running efficiency.

Exercises for Core Stability:

Supine bent-knee raises: Lie on your back with knees bent, arms along your sides with palms on the floor, abs contracted. Keeping your knee bent, lift one knee at a time toward your chest. Hold for count of five. Return that leg to starting position. Repeat this move slowly 10 times on each leg. Focus on keeping your abs contracted and your pelvis and back stable as you move your legs.

Quadruped with arm and leg raises: Start on your hands and knees on your mat. Bracing your abdominal muscles and keeping your hips still, simultaneously raise one arm straight out in front and the opposite leg straight out behind you. Maintain a straight line along your back and hips. Hold for a count of five and slowly lower your limbs. Repeat with the other arm and leg. Repeat on each side several times, always keeping your abs in and hips still.

Bridging: Lie on your mat on your back with your arms at your sides, and knees bent, feet flat on floor near your butt. Press your heels down as you lift your hips off the floor. Squeeze your glutes tight and hold for a beat, then lower back down slowly to the floor. Repeat 5-10 times.

Prone plank: Start in a push-up position, with hands directly under your shoulders. Balance on your palms and the balls of your feet. Hold this position as long as you can, making sure your abdominal muscles are contracted and there is a straight line from your shoulders to your heels.

Side plank: Lie on your left side on your mat, with legs extended, and right foot stacked on top of the left. Support your body weight on your elbow and hip. Keeping your abs tight, raise your hips up till your body forms a straight line from head to heel. Hold for as long as you can. Repeat, then switch sides.

Perform these exercises two to three days per week to feel results. There are many other exercises that you can explore, including Pilates and yoga regimens, balance board work, and functional movement exercises. Whichever regimen you choose, you will find that strengthening your core improves your running form and performance, and reduces your chance of injury due to instability. It will also make for a more enjoyable running experience!

Guest Post by Adrian Dunn, American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, and Fitness Coach for EverydayHealth.com and its calorie counter.

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Staying motivated after summer

September 7, 2011
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Staying Motivated to Stay in Shape After the Summer With the cooler weather swiftly approaching again, now is a good time to think about your winter workout routine. If you’re not a big fan of the cold and snow, you may need a little extra motivation to leave your warm bed on a chilly morning […]

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The Importance of Setting The Right Fitness Goals

August 3, 2011

While every endeavor is best met with confidence, setting the right fitness goals also involves a realistic approach. If a new fitness regimen is too aggressive, especially in the early stages, resolve will suffer and inevitably deter any serious progress. The best way to map out a successful workout regimen, then, is to first assess […]

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Neurocognitive Decline Slowed by Exercise

March 2, 2011

Exercise provides benefits in countless ways. For some, it lessens stress and prevents obesity. For many others however, it’s after effects aren’t always physical. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences provides that prolonged amounts of exercise can actually promote heightened cognitive functions, particular to the brain’s hippocampus (memory center). As we age, […]

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