Healthy Life

Being overweight poses significant health risks for men. It can lead to several serious issues, from heart disease to diabetes.

Understanding the specific health conditions linked to obesity and the role of body fat distribution is crucial to your overall health.

Worldwide obesity in adults has more than doubled since 1990, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – and in line with this trend, more than 30% of South African men are overweight. These shocking figures reveal the urgency of addressing this global and national pandemic. Jenna Selley, a registered dietitian at Mediclinic Morningside, explains the impact of obesity on men's health and the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle.

How does obesity affect your health?

Obesity is more than just about appearances, says Selley; it’s a multifaceted health concern with profound implications. “Obesity significantly heightens the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including elevated blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance,” she explains. These factors collectively increase the likelihood of severe cardiovascular ailments such as heart attacks, stroke, and hypertension.

Excess weight in men can also worsen blood sugar regulation, setting the stage for diabetes. “Beyond the physical consequences of obesity, it can also affect mental wellbeing, contributing to depression, anxiety, and diminished self-esteem.” The psychological impact in turn perpetuates unhealthy habits, resulting in a damaging cycle.

A multidisciplinary approach that deals with both the physical and mental parts of obesity, can be the most effective way to reduce the dangers linked with being overweight.

How does body fat distribution affect your health?

“Knowing the details about where body fat is stored helps us understand how it affects your health,” Selley says. “There are two main types: subcutaneous fat, which is under the skin, and visceral fat, which surrounds organs in the belly. It’s important to tell them apart because even though subcutaneous fat might not seem harmful, visceral fat is a health risk because of how it affects your metabolism.

“Visceral fat acts as an active endocrine organ, releasing inflammatory substances that contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers,” she explains. “The accumulation of visceral fat disrupts hormonal balance, particularly affecting testosterone levels in men, thereby exacerbating health issues.”

Healthy diet

Maintaining a healthy weight isn't just about counting calories; you also need to nourish your body with the right foods and stay active. To tackle obesity effectively, a holistic approach is essential, and that starts with what you eat.

Selley emphasises the importance of nutrient-rich whole foods such as colourful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken or fish, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. “By choosing these foods over highly processed options loaded with added sugars and unhealthy fats, you’re controlling your weight and ensuring you get the vital nutrients your body needs to function optimally.”

Regular exercise

But healthy eating is only one piece of the puzzle. Regular physical activity is equally important for managing weight and promoting overall wellness. Selley advises a mix of different exercises, from moderate activities like brisk walking or swimming to more intense workouts like jogging or cycling. “Don't forget about strength training too. It helps build muscle, boost metabolism, and improve body composition, all of which are key for long-term weight management.”