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Stubborn Belly Fat? It May Be Because Of Your Exercise Program!

Posted Oct 18 2012 1:36am

If you’ve been fighting with stubborn lower belly fat, your exercise program could be to blame. In individuals who hold most of their weight in the lower abdomen below the waist, a common underlying cause is fatigue of the adrenal glands due to chronic stress. In people suffering from adrenal fatigue, too much exercise or exercise that is highly intense can cause further adrenal fatigue and result in the release of a hormone that causes more fat to accumulate in the lower belly.

The adrenals are small glands that sit on top of the kidneys (“adrenal” translates to “on top of the kidney”). Alhough they are small, the adrenal glands are powerful organs and produce hormones involved in many functions. The most familiar of the adrenal horomones is probably adrenaline (also called epinephrine). As you are probably aware, adrenaline is produced in response to stress or fear and mobilizes the body for “flight or fight” responses by raising blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing, and by diverting blood flow to the muscles for fast action. Adrenaline also promotes the burning of fat for energy, so adrenal function can promote weight loss during short periods of physical or even emotional .

The adrenal glands produce another hormone that can promote weight gain though. This hormone is called cortisol, and it tends to cause the storage of fat in the lower abdomen. Unlike adrenaline which is produced for only short periods of time, the adrenal glands can produce cortisol long-term. This means that any fat-burning effects from adrenaline will be overcome in the long-run by the fat-storing effects of cortisol.

While cortisol is important in circumstances where the body must conserve energy as much as possible to be able to survive long periods under physically demanding conditions, it can be a big disadvantage to those living with emotional stress in terms of weight control. Long-standing mental and emotional stress triggers chronic high cortisol levels in the blood and this produces a strong fat storing effect.

Now we come to exercise. In a person who is under a lot of emotional stress and who has chronically overworked adrenal glands, cortisol levels will be high and adrenaline will have long since been used up. Under these circumstances, if you add heavy physical exercise as an additional stressor to the body, the result will be even more cortisol release from the adrenals. The high levels of cortisone result in more and more fat storage in the lower belly.

Frustrated by the persistence of the belly fat, some people will attempt to get resuls by working out more often and more vigorously. This may produce some but rarely does it help reduce the fat deposits in the lower abdomen. This will drive some to try to exercise even harder, but as they do, they become tired, sore, and may even lose strength and endurance in the muscles of the arms and legs.

Why would somone lose strength in the muscles in the arms and legs? Isn’t exercise supposed to build muscle? Well, cortisol not only stores fat in the lower abdomen, it also stimulates the breakdown of muscle and other tissue to use for immediate energy needs. So the more determined a person is to exercise away the belly fat, the more cortisol is produced, and as we said a moment ago, if you burn more calories than you take in, you will , only in this case the weight being lost is muscle and not fat!

The result is a downward spiral of fatigue, loss of muscle mass and strength, and sometimes the development of joint problems as the body eats it’s own tissues for energy – but there’s no reduction in that lower abdomen fat deposit that the body holds in reserve.

You may be wondering what you can do to get rid of your belly fat if you do have this problem of high cortisol. First, it is a good idea to be certain that your main issue is in fact adrenal-related, because if it is not, intense exercise is one of the best things you can do to lose weight.

Someone with a high cortisol problem will have a certain collection of signs and symptoms. First, as we’ve mentioned several times already, the excess weight is deposited almost exclusively in the lower abdomen. The weight would create a sagging area just below the waistline. As we’ve already stated, there may be loss of muscle in the arms and legs, and this might be visibly noticable, or it may manifest simply as an inability to build strength in these muscles. In addition, people with adrenal fatigue and high cortisol may have a collection of symptoms that could include chronic fatigue, cravings for salty foods, a need for caffeine or other stimulants just to stay awake during the day, swelling in the lower legs, dizziness when arising quickly from a seated position, numerous arthritic problems, cramps in the calves at night, and waking up frequently in the middle of the night.

In cases of adrenal fatigue, exercise is still necessary, but it is important to do activities that do not overstress the body. The best approach is to do about 30 to 60 minutes of low-intensity aerobic exercise about 3 days per week. Low-intensity aerobic exercise includes just about any form of exercise you can do that does not leave you gasping for breath and does not leave you fatigued and sore. Among the best options are walking (particularly outside if there is not a lot of pollution and there are no temperature extremes), swimming, bicycling, and low-intensity aerobics.

Besides the exercise approach just mentioned, it is good to eat a reasonable amount of protein in order to maintain muscle mass. About 3 to 4 ounces of animal protein (meat, fish, eggs, poultry, or dairy) 3 times per day is usually good. If you happen to be a vegan, then be sure to consume plenty of seeds, nuts, beans, and other vegetarian proteins.

If you have been frustrated with that roll of belly fat and have been working hard to get rid of it only to wind up weak, fatigued, and sore, if you’ll change your exercise approach, maintain your protein intake and do whatever you can to reduce stress, that stubborn abdominal fat will go away over time and you’ll be thrilled to look and feel great!

Dr. George Best writes extensively on natural weight loss. Dr. Best is in private practice in San Antonio Texas. You can reach Dr. Best by email at

  • fitness program
  • how long does aerobic exercise take to start losing belly fat

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