Men’sopause, visceral fat and testosterone

By Brian Cole, Personal Training Associates

In my last column I wrote about womenopause and cellulite. In that same issue a recent poll showed that 38 percent of Oyster Pointer readers are men. This column is for you. It’s about men’sopause and your type of fat.

First though, let’s clarify: the types of fat aren’t gender absolutes; they’re just much more common along male/female differences. Also, unlike women, there is no “event” which defines male menopause—men’sopause—it’s more like a subtle but steady and very real series of changes.

sketchMen’s fat tends to gather around the middle (belly fat). Men gain this fat mainly due to lifestyle choices they’ve made. Enough exercise has been avoided, too much alcohol and simple carbohydrates have been consumed. There are consequences.

But guys are proud that their expanded bellies are still firm. Poke it and it’s solid. Good, right? Very, very viscerally wrong. A soft, jiggly jelly belly is much less dangerous because that means the fat is just under the skin. That type of fat is called subcutaneous, and I’m not saying it’s good to have but it is not as threatening to health as the fat that is under skin and muscle. This is called visceral fat and it is a very real threat. Research is clearly defining how much of a threat. This deeper—visceral—fat is surrounding the pancreas, colon, liver and kidneys with a direct relationship to increased likelihood of cancer to those organs. It also increases the onset of Type 2 diabetes ( that’s the type we used to call Adult Onset Diabetes but too many overweight kids are now faced with it—hence the name change). Visceral fat also indicates that heart disease is more probable.

Even if your belly’s like jelly, if it’s over 40 inches circumference at the navel, you have too much visceral fat. You don’t need expensive diagnostic testing to confirm that’s accurate. You need—that’s right—improved nutrition and a lot more exercise. Specifically—and research is clear on this—you need to walk or run the equivalent of 20 miles a week and you need to build new calorie-burning lean muscle tissue to keep the fat off. Or there will be those consequences. To paraphrase: “Men’sopause ain’t for sissies.”

Also, during men’sopause there is a loss of lean muscle tissue and of bone mass with a resultant loss of energy and height. Arteries may become clogged and narrower with reduced blood flow and higher blood pressure as a result. Whereas women have an estrogen hormonal crash, men have a gradual testosterone/libido decline.

What, if anything, can be done to offset all of this? Plenty. Progressive weight resistance strength training can counteract loss of precious lean muscle tissue. Because muscle burns far more calories than fat, the immediate result, by definition, is more energy. Weight-bearing exercise slows or eliminates bone loss which shows as more upright posture. Cardiovascular exercise keeps arteries clearer, and blood flows more efficiently to all tissues and organs that call for it.

OK, you already know exercise is the remedy for almost everything but this is for guys and you probably want me to get to the point: that testosterone/libido decline. Why not just get testosterone injections? Hormone Replacement Therapy for men? Well, one problem is that when injections are given, the body produces even less than it was. And that sounds like a self-perpetuating cycle. Like a back brace, the body relies on it instead of improving the source of the problem. In addition, research shows that while a reduced testosterone level does affect interest/desire/libido, it has little to no connection with the ability to function. Function is primarily a byproduct of vascular efficiency which injections do not address. Remember those clogged arteries? They’re everywhere...

So what about that reduced libido? Well, that’s not such bad news. Huh? How can such a lifelong priority in decline not be bad news? Read on...

First, there is finally more control of the hormonal drive that fuels so much problem-causing behavior. While we know we should respect and empathize with women’s hormonal challenges, men’s hormonal drives are not all that consistent with society’s rules and guidelines. So now instead of some of the “imbalances” caused by having 20 to 30 times as much testosterone as the ladies, there’s a bit more balance. And if you combine that with the healthy blood flow we talked about, this can arguably become the most compatible stage of life. Will this still require patience, priorities and effort? Sure, what of value doesn’t? The rewards are worth it.

Brian Cole is owner of Personal Training Associates with studios in Newport News (Port Warwick and Hilton Village), and Virginia Beach. He can be reached at 757-599-5999.

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