DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Like most middle-aged men, I have a gut. Can I get rid of it with exercise? I am about 10 pounds overweight, and I carry those 10 pounds in my stomach. Can sit-ups flatten it? Must I diet too? – C.P.

This question is one of the most-asked questions I receive. Up to now, my answer has been to say that exercise does not selectively remove abdominal fat. Exercise burns fat from all body storage sites.

I also used to say that an appreciable loss of body weight and fat is most difficult to attain by exercising only. A person must also create a calorie deficiency – diet.

I am revising my thoughts because of a well-designed experiment. The experimenters wanted to find out if exercise alone is effective for fat loss and if exercise alone can remove fat from the abdomen.

They measured the waist-hip ratio of recruits to an Asian army. The waist-hip ratio is obtained by dividing the waist measurement by the hip measurement. The waist measurement is taken at the level of the navel, and the hip measurement at the hip level that gives the largest reading. (Measure in inches or centimeters. It doesn’t matter.) A good ratio is 1 or less. A desirable ration is less than 0.9. A large waist-hip ratio is a risk factor for future heart attacks. All the recruits used in this experiment had large waist-hip ratios. They were allowed to eat as much as any of the other recruits ate. No dieting was involved. Their exercise program was one that is basic to every army inductee. The whole day was not spent exercising.

The result was surprising. All the recruits, without any dieting, lost weight. Furthermore, they had a most significant decline in their waist-hip ratios. Fat was removed from the abdomen in greater amounts than from other areas. None of them lost muscle tissue – something that happens when calories are restricted.

Take this information with restraint. Most people are not up the exercise challenge faced by army recruits. Most people, therefore, will have to diet to see a loss of body fat. Sit-ups alone will not remove fat only from the abdomen. They will strengthen abdominal muscles, and stronger muscles hold in a protruding gut.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a friend who is devoted to weightlifting. He spends hours every day pumping iron. I have just started weightlifting. My friend tells me that I can progress more rapidly by lifting the weights very slowly, taking 10 seconds, and lowering them slowly, taking 5 seconds. Is this correct advice? – T.B.

You’re speaking about super-slow resistance training. (Resistance is a synonym for weightlifting.) There is a book that champions the method.

A standard time for lifting a weight is two seconds; for lowering it, four seconds.

Some authorities claim that the stimulus to muscle growth is less with super-slow training than with traditional training. I am leaving this up to you. It won’t hurt to try it. If it works, let me know. I’ll make you famous.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: On daily walks, I am more exhausted in the initial stages than in the last stages, when I should be more exhausted. Is this a second wind, and is it for real? – L.F.

A second wind happens to people who are engaged in long bouts of exercise, like marathon running. After about two hours, the runners are depleted of energy. If they keep at it, they often experience a feeling of rejuvenation and new energy. At the two-hour mark, the body has depleted all its muscle glycogen (muscle sugar) that has been the fuel for their exercise. In switching to a new fuel source – fat – there is an initial phase where lactic acid builds up and blood sugar drops. The buildup produces fatigue, and the low blood sugar leads to low brain sugar, another fatigue factor. When the body adapts to the new source of fuel, that is the point when runners get a second wind. It’s real. Perhaps this is what’s happening to you.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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