Q. What kind of exercise should I do to get rid of this big gut I'm carrying around?

Exercise alone will not do the job. Strengthening abdominal muscles can help you look tighter and thinner. But spot exercises won't banish belly fat. The real secret to losing belly fat is a balanced, calorie-controlled diet and an hour a day of moderate activity such as brisk walking.

If you are going to do abdominal exercises, which ones work best? Most people figure that doing sit-ups is the logical solution, but there are better ways to attack the middle.

Believe it or not, you can develop your deep abdominal muscles by sucking in your belly. Exhale completely and then pull your belly button in and up slowly. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. You can do this on your hands and knees or standing.

Pelvic exercises work on your lower abdomen. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your abdominal muscles and bend your pelvis up slightly. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat.

Here's another pelvic exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent up toward your chest and your arms at your sides. Tighten your lower abdomen and try to lift your buttocks up off the floor. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat.

How often you do these exercises depends upon your physical condition. Don't do anything that hurts. And checking with your doctor before starting a new exercise program is recommended.

Belly fat or "abdominal obesity" as it is known in polite circles is not just an unsightly mass of blubber that forces you to look for bigger pants. That spare tire is a health hazard.

Excess weight is unhealthy, but extra abdominal weight is especially unhealthy. Abdominal fat cells are more than just stored energy. These cells make hormones and other substances that impact your health. Too much belly fat increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, diabetes, gallbladder problems, high blood pressure and colorectal cancer.

There is some very good news for those trying to lose belly fat (I'm with you, Chubby). Belly fat is the first to go when you diet and exercise. Almost everyone who loses weight will lose it first in the belly. And they will lose proportionately more weight in this region than in other parts of the body.

So, what exactly is a big belly? Most authorities will tell you that a man's waistline larger than 40 inches and a woman's waistline larger than 35 inches is too much middle.

The proper way to measure your waist is to use a soft tape measure. Lie down and wrap it around your natural waistline, located above your hip bone and below your belly button. Take the measurement without holding your breath or pulling your stomach in.

A big belly is a common sight on seniors. As you age and your metabolism slows down, the amount of fat in your body slowly increases. Women experience an even greater overall fat increase than men do. Then, after menopause, body fat tends to shift to the abdomen. However, men are more likely than women to gain weight around the waist.

You can inherit a tendency to get a big belly. For most men, however, the cause is more likely to be what they do with their elbow. Too much alcohol with give you a spare tire. There is such a thing as a "beer belly." However, a more accurate definition would be "alcohol abdomen."

There seems to be a link between abdominal obesity and depression. There have been reports showing that cortisol, a stress hormone, is related to both depression and abdominal obesity. Some researchers suspect that people who are depressed may have higher levels of abdominal obesity because of elevated cortisol. More studies are needed to determine the underlying causes for weight gain among those who reported being depressed.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at www.healthygeezer.com [1]

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (TIMES NEWS) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the author do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TIMES NEWS. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.