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Six pack abs: Worth the effort?

The important thing is to be strong, be healthy, eat well and feel good about yourself.The legendary six-pack: envied by men and desired by women. Or so we’re led to believe. But what does it take and in the end, is obtaining this symbol of hard-body leanness worth the effort?

We often talk on this blog about the importance of regular exercise and proper nutrition to keep you in shape and prevent the conditions that can bring you to our door. A strong core is an important aspect of this. Engaging your core with shoulders back and chest proud when lifting or twisting will protect your back from injury. A weak core, on the other hand, makes injury that much more likely when shoveling snow, bagging yard waste, or hoisting the kids.

But a six-pack, or even a respectable four-pack, is no indicator of core strength. There are plenty of men, and women too, with rock-hard abs that provide them with plenty of strength and support, and they have never seen a pack of any kind in their bathroom mirror.

You may already have an impressive six-pack, you just can’t see it under a layer of padding otherwise known as subcutaneous (or under the skin) fat.

Of all the unwanted fat you may collect on your body, belly fat is often the most troublesome to melt away. There have been no shortage of fad exercise programs and gadgets intended to target the abs with the claim they will burn this unwanted fat away.

But let’s clear something up right now – this so-called “spot reduction,” or trying to burn fat from a specific area of the body with targeted exercise, is a myth. It doesn’t work.

The only way to burn fat from any part of your body is to burn fat from your entire body through exercise and a calorie-restricted diet that avoids added sugars. The only benefit of those targeted exercises and exercise gadgets is that your abs will get stronger … somewhere under the fat.

But there are things you can do to help you look leaner around the middle.

For example:

Beware toxins that lead to hormone imbalances: The chief culprit is a synthetic estrogen compound called bisphenol A (BPA). This is commonly found in plastics – avoid plastic food containers whenever possible and absolutely do not reheat food in them. Other suspects include pesticides, artificial sweeteners, and parabens (preservatives often used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries). All these compounds can elevate estrogen levels, which contributes to stubborn belly fat. If you want to find that six-pack, restrain your sweet tooth, and shop for organic fruits and vegetables.

Get enough sleep and manage your stress: Lack of sleep throws your body’s hormone levels and its ability to manage blood sugar out of balance. Along with stress, lack of sleep can also elevate your body’s cortisol (aka hydrocortisone) levels. This is your “flight or fight” hormone for responding to threats. Constantly elevated cortisol levels again lead your body to retain and add belly fat. Regular exercise is of course a great way to relieve your stress. On the other hand, overdoing it can backfire by also leaving your cortisol levels persistently elevated. Thirty to 40-minute workouts are best.

Get yourself tested: Perhaps you have natural hormone imbalances due to age or another condition. Common issues that impact weight loss are high estrogen and low testosterone.
Another factor can be a food intolerance that causes inflammation and bloating, such as digestive issues with gluten or lactose, or plants in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

Take the good fat, avoid the bad: The good fat is Omega 3, an anti-inflammatory. Whether it comes from plant or fish oil sources, Omega 3 has been shown to accelerate fat loss, especially belly fat loss, when taken as part of a fitness program. The bad fats to avoid are the hydrogenated vegetable oils (the trans fats) that are high in Omega 6, which is an inflammatory.

And eat clean: The problem is that most North Americans eat a diet far too high in Omega 6 since these vegetable oils are the kinds of fats typically found in packaged and processed foods. So, eat clean and wholesome – lean protein sources such as eggs, meat and nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Those packaged and processed foods are often also high in sodium, which promotes bloating. It’s also important to remain hydrated by drinking lots of water – this helps to flush toxins from your body.

Lastly – crunch those abs: There are no shortage of ways to exercise your abs without having to purchase some “as-seen-on-TV” gadget. Here are some ideas from Fitness Magazine.

But consider that biology may not be in your favour: Genetics may also dictate how pronounced your abs can get. Some people can show a six-pack with more body fat than others. Then there are people who are lean and muscular but their abs still don’t exhibit the kind of impressive ripple that graces the covers of fitness magazines.

So, is striving for a six-pack worth it? That depends on you. The important thing is to be strong, be healthy, eat well and feel good about yourself, regardless of how many packs you can see.

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