They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away — unless you’re the apple.
What makes that the case? YMCA of the Fox Cities healthy living and weight-loss coordinator Stacy Summers explains.
“An apple body type carries their weight on the upper half of the body, while the pear shape carries their weight on the lower half of their body.”
Apples might think finding jeans that fit well is their toughest battle, but they face more significant challenges than that. A larger waistline can mean a greater risk of serious health problems. Read on to learn more.
Why am I an apple?
If you tend to store fat around your midsection, you can thank your mom and dad for that.
It comes down to genetics, Summers said.
However, that doesn’t mean your shape is completely out of your control. When your calorie intake and expenditure is balanced, your body won’t accumulate fat, no matter where your DNA tells it to go.
Stress, exercise and nutrition all play a part in that formula, said David Brown, president and owner of Underground Functional Fitness.
If your genetics have unleashed what he called “the Santa Claus effect,” you’re likely falling down on three fronts: “the mind, the muscle and the food.”
So my waist isn't all that trim. What's the big deal?
As it turns out, fat carried on the top half of your body is fundamentally
different from fat carried on the bottom half of your body.
“In general, those who have an apple-shaped body have more fat around their organs. That in and of itself is a health risk,” said Shana Hussin,
a ThedaCare registered dietitian and health coach.
This visceral fat surrounds the heart, lungs and liver like the Styrofoam in an electronics box. That puts pressure on your vital organs, Brown said.
Worse, though, is that visceral fat can become interstitial fat that invades the organs like the marbling in meat. This tends to increase cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides, which puts you at increased risk for heart disease.
And that’s not all. Abdominal fat “messes with your insulin levels.
That’s when diabetes starts to set in,” Brown said.
Won't doing lots of crunches help?
Summers said she gets questions like that all the time from people hoping to master their bodies’ problem areas. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
“There’s no such thing as spot reducing. There’s no such thing as doing extra ab work for the apples or extra lunges and squats for the pears,” Brown said.
In fact, when Brown trains apples, he’s careful of exercises that position them on their backs or bellies, as many ab-centric do.
These exercises can increase already higher-than-normal pressure on the organs.
His suggestion for anyone looking to lose fat, whether from their middles or their hips: those muscles that offer the most reward for your effort. The abdominal muscles are small and consume relatively few calories; by comparison, the large muscles in the thighs are energy-burning powerhouses.
If crunches won't work, what will?
Apples might want to spend less time doing sit-ups and more time calming their minds with yoga or tai chi.
“There is research out there that apple-shaped body types collect their fat around their abdomens, and that can have to do with stress,” Summers said.
But when it comes right down to it, apples have to face the same hard truth that we all do. You can’t magically shrink your middle or any other body part. You simply have to eat less and exercise more — if only that were simple.
“If (my clients) are looking to lose weight in general, I don’t do much different with a pear vs. an apple,” Hussin said. “I just try to get them as healthy as possible.”
In that process, she may take a slightly different approach to an apple’s fat intake. An emphasis on omega-rich healthy fats as well as oat-based foods may help lower cholesterol to reduce an apple’s risk of heart disease.
Beyond that, Hussin, Summers and Brown all agree: Whole foods — like apples and pears — are the key for apples and pears alike.
As Brown put it, “If it had a face, if it swam, ran or anything like that, you can eat it. If it grew out of the ground, you can eat it.”
How will I know I'm making progress?
Most of us rely on our scales to tell us whether we’re making fitness gains. But apples especially may want to look elsewhere for affirmation.
Tracking body mass index, or BMI, is helpful. Summers recommended www.bmi-calculator.net to determine this weight-to-height ratio, adding that women should aim for a BMI of 18.5 to 20.5.
One word of caution from Brown: BMI can be misleadingly high if you’re muscular. That’s why he prefers using waist and hip measurements to see whether his apple clients are headed in the right direction. (See breakout box for details.)
Pears have it easy, don't they?
It may seem like pears get off without a health hitch. “I’ve had people say, ‘Well, I’m a pear shape so I don’t have to worry so much,’” Summers said.
But pears have their own set of concerns, according to Brown. They are more prone to osteoporosis and eating disorders. Also, their fat deposits put pressure on blood vessels and lead to more varicose veins.
Then, of course, there’s cellulite. That subcutaneous fat may not wreak havoc on the organs, but it can be stubborn and slower to come off than an apple’s visceral fat, Brown said.
So apples, take heart and take action. You’ll be glad you did — and so will your ticker.