In my previous post, I tried to convince you that if you want to have good health and fitness today, as well as in your 80s and 90s, then you should immediately start building your Spartan body. I also argued that if you eat a good diet and exercise, building and maintaining this new body would be pretty easy. But how do you know that all of your changes are working?
Without blood tests, you can't see many of the indicators of poor health (e.g., blood cholesterol, glucose, and cortisol tests). However, there are visual indicators that represent your body's overall degree of dysfunction. The most reliable (and obvious) is a growing waistline and how that waistline relates to your height and hips.
Why is Abdominal Obesity so Bad?In my Stress and Metabolic Syndrome X post, I talked about how all the risk factors associated with Metabolic Syndrome X (e.g., high blood pressure, incorrect blood lipids, insulin resistance, large abdominal circumference) are associated with chronically excessive blood cortisol levels. One of the many consequences of excess cortisol levels is increased abdominal fat.
Abdominal fat is primarily composed of visceral fat cells and is used as emergency (or short-term) fat storage and to warm and secure major organs. Because of this, there shouldn't be much energy stored in visceral fat (it comprises about 3% of a person's total body weight). (1) This healthy condition is seen as a flat waistline.
But, when a person experiences chronically elevated cortisol levels, they become insulin resistant (because cortisol counter-regulates insulin). Insulin is a storage hormone that directs sugar and fat in the blood into long-term and short-term energy storage cells (e.g., fat, liver, and muscle cells). When a person becomes insulin resistant, excess blood sugar and fat gets funneled into visceral fat cells, which increases the size of their waist. (2)
If this dysfunctional situation is not quickly corrected, then your waist will continue to grow with time as more and more blood sugar and fat are forced into visceral fat cells. If this situation is allowed to continue for decades, then your likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes increases.
Understanding the relationship between an expanding waistline, cortisol, and poor health means that your waist measurement becomes a general barometer for your overall health. In very simplistic terms, if your waistline is expanding, then your overall health is getting worse; if your waistline is shrinking (or is within a healthy range), then your overall health is getting better.