With worrying statistics indicating that obese men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women, Dr Michael Mosley gives us his advice for beating the bulge
Now, more than ever, we need to change our eating and health habits to boost that all-important immune system.
With COVID-19 cases back on the rise, it seems only sensible that we do all we can to get fit and healthy – and that means focussing on losing weight.
Frightening statistics have revealed that men are twice as likely to die from coronavirus than women, and obesity increases that risk.
COVID-19 attacks vital organs, specifically the lungs, and the more overweight you are, the lower your lung capacity. But why is it men who are worse off?
‘Studies have revealed that men are more likely to think they are leaner than women think they are, so might be less likely to take action when it comes to their weight,’ explains Dr Michael Mosley.
‘They take less care of their health and yet are at greater risk of things like diabetes and heart disease.’
Here, Dr Mosley, creator of The Fast 800 intermittent-fasting plan, tells us how to shape up in his own words.
Am I overweight?
One of the main challenges as we age is that our metabolism slows right down. Men, on average, put on around 0.5 kg for every year between 40 and 60.
The waist to height ratio is a useful indicator of health – ideally your waist circumference should be at most half of your height.
Grab a piece of string that is as long as you are tall. Fold it in half and see if it fits around your waist. If it doesn’t, don’t worry.
We come in all shapes and sizes, but an increased waist circumference can indicate a higher risk of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.
Target belly fat
Even the slimmest of men can suffer with belly fat – one of the most dangerous places to store fat.
As if this were not bad enough, fat cells deep in your abdomen – also known as ‘visceral fat’ – are reluctant to let go of their energy stash.
To find the extra energy needed to fuel a small energy deficit, or a standard gym session, your body will look to other reserves first, like your glutes.
Fortunately, recent breakthroughs in medical and sports science have shown that it is possible to throw this gradient into reverse – you can lose belly fat and you can lose it fast.
Follow the guidelines below…
A three-pronged attack on belly fat…
1) Low sugar, simple carbs and more protein
To make a serious impact on your belly fat, cutting out sugar spikes is key. When people cut carbs, their appetite goes down and they lose weight.
Not all carbs are created equal; there are good carbs and bad carbs. The trick is not to cut carbs completely, but to be choosy about the ones you regularly eat.
White bread, white pasta, potatoes and sugars, including maple syrup and agave nectar, are best eaten sparingly, if at all.
They are easily digestible carbohydrates, rapidly absorbed by the body, creating a big spike in blood-sugar levels.
Instead, eat carbs that contain lots of fibre. Fibre reduces the blood-sugar spike, provides protection against bowel cancer and feeds the ‘good’ bacteria that live in your gut.
Examples include vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, such as barley, oats, buckwheat, wholegrain and rye.
Limit your intake of any food or drink containing more than 5% sugar to no more than twice a week. This includes sweet fruits like mango and pineapple, and sugary smoothies and juices.
2) Intermittent fasting
The idea that fasting ‘slows your metabolism’ is a myth. When you eat fewer calories than you burn you create a calorie deficit, also called an energy deficit. You must create a calorie deficit to lose weight.
Eating 800 calories per day or less not only helps you lose weight because you’re eating fewer calories, but your body responds to the stress of fasting by producing more of the hormone noradrenaline, which is known to burn fat.
Short-term fasting can lead to changes in the body that make fat-burning easier. These include reduced insulin, increased growth hormone, more adrenaline and a small boost in metabolism.
The Fast 800 diet combines intermittent fasting with time-restricted eating, which is very straightforward.
Simply ensure that for at least 12 hours within each 24-hour period, you do not consume any calories. Some people prefer to shorten their eating window further to 10 or eight hours.
Finally, cut down on booze. Try to follow a 5:2 pattern, taking a couple of days off drinking each week.
3) HIIT training
Exercise is key for various reasons. It is among the best things you can do for a long and healthy life.
I recommend just 10 minutes on a static bike three times a week, plus quick strengthening exercises, which don’t require special equipment.
In case you’ve never tried HIIT (high intensity interval training), it involves a few very short bursts of exercise carried out in succession.
If you don’t have an exercise bike you can try pedalling on your road bike furiously up a hill, running up the stairs, or doing short sprints when out on a run – just pick up your walking pace until you are breathing hard.
The main thing is that these bursts should be brief (30 seconds maximum when it comes to the stairs or running), but hard enough to get your heart rate up.