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Drop belly fat, drop cancer risks

Focused on Health - May 2014

By Adelina Espat and Brittany Cordeiro

Are you a having a hard time zipping up a pair of once baggy pants?belly exercises

This isn’t just a sign that you need to buy a bigger size. It also may mean that you need to pay more attention to your health.

An expanding waistline can increase your chances for certain cancers. This includes colorectal, pancreatic, breast (after menopause) and uterine cancers.

Studies suggest that when it comes to your health, a trim tummy is just as important as maintaining a healthy weight or low percentage of body fat.

“It’s not just fat directly under the skin,” says Sally Scroggs, health education manager in MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. “A wide waist also is a warning sign that fat may be growing around important organs, like the pancreas.”

This fat, known as visceral fat, can weaken or damage your organs. Too much visceral fat can tell your body to make more insulin than it needs. High levels of insulin over time can lead to diseases like diabetes and cancer. 

A heavy midsection also can put stress on your back and joints. This added pressure can leave you with aches and pains, causing you to be less active.   

For post-menopausal women, lower estrogen levels can change the way your body stores fat. Instead of storing fat in your hips and thighs, you may see more fat in your abdomen. This extra tummy fat can disrupt your hormones and increase your chances of breast and uterine cancers.

The good news: You can take steps to reduce your belly fat. Our expert offers this advice.

Measure your waist tape measure

Women should aim for a 31.5-inch waist or below and men a 37-inch waist or below. Follow these steps to see how you measure up:

  1. Place a tape measure around your waist at the narrowest point between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hipbone.
  2. Make sure the tape is snug but doesn’t squeeze your skin.
  3. Measure your waist after breathing out.

Another important measurement is your waist-to-hip ratio. To get this number, place the tape measure loosely around the largest area of your hips. This area is usually around your buttocks. Take note of this number. Now, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get your waist-to-hip ratio. Men should keep their ratio below 0.95 and women below 0.80. 

Eat a belly-friendly diet

Choosing the right types and amounts of food can help you trim belly fat. Try these diet tips:

  • Cut 100 calories from your daily diet.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar you eat.
  • Eat more plant-based proteins like nuts and beans
  • Eat lots of dark leafy greens and berries
  • Choose whole grain breads and cereal, and low-fat dairy

Exercise to lose fatcore exercise

If your resolution this year is to tighten those abs, it’s as easy as staying active every day.

Aim for at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise each week to reduce your chances for cancer. Increasing your workout time or upping the intensity of your workouts will improve your chances of shedding that extra tummy fat.

Also, include strength training activities in your workout. Strength training helps build muscle and increases the rate at which your body burns calories. MD Anderson’s fitness expert shares an abdominal exercise plan and video to get you started.

“Keeping a lean tummy is important for everyone at every age,” Scroggs says. So, start making these healthy changes now.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center