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Potbellies Warn of Later Problems

You were a pretty good jock in high school, and in your 20s you tried everything from racquetball to running. But in middle age, even your softball glove is gathering dust. For recreation, you surf -- the Web, not the waves.

It's all part of that cavalier male attitude toward health that also makes men less likely than women to see a doctor.

The fact is, you might not care as much about looks as your wife does, but that fat around your abdomen is no laughing matter. A man's potbelly often warns of later problems ranging from heart disease to cancer, diabetes, arthritis, back pain, and sleep apnea.

Medical professionals are able to predict fairly accurately who is going to have a heart attack based on diet, blood pressure, and body weight. Obese men with high fat diets and hypertension are more likely to suffer from a heart attack.

 Not all of them will have heart attacks, of course, but it's still enough to worry even a manly man like you. Fortunately, men can do something about it without running marathons and living on bean sprouts. Small changes in habits can pay big dividends.

Men on the move

You don't have to run a marathon every day to improve your health. A growing body of evidence indicates that just half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week can cut your blood pressure and body fat and improve your cardiopulmonary fitness. You don't even need 30 minutes straight. Three 10-minute chunks will work fine.

Here's some advice to run with:

  • Consult your doctor first. Don't start a fitness program until you do.

  • Build activity into your day. Take stairs, not elevators. Park farther away so you'll walk more. Trade the riding mower for one you push.

  • Consider hiring a trainer. Make sure a reputable group, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, certifies the trainer.

  • Find an exercise buddy. Your pal can move you to exercise when you don't feel like it.

  • Join a fitness club. The camaraderie and classes may help keep you on a schedule.

  • Find weekend fitness fun. An activity such as canoeing, hiking, or camping is an incentive to work out during the week to get ready.

  • If you golf, forget the cart. If carrying a bag is too demanding, use a pull-cart or a caddy.

  • Look for age-specific leagues or outdoor clubs. Try tennis, golf, basketball, softball, bicycling, hiking -- whatever you enjoy.

  • Volunteer to coach your children. Don't watch from the bleachers. Get physically involved in practices and workouts.

  • Set a goal. Sign up for a long bike ride, for instance, then use that as a training incentive.

Real men, real menus

Design meals that are nutrient-dense and calorie wise. High quality meals and snacks provide the necessary energy for a productive, binge-free day.

Heed these tips:

  • Divide your plate into quarters. Fill one quarter with lean meat and another quarter with a piece of bread or a little pasta, rice or potato, and half the plate with vegetables, salad, or fruit.

  • Aim for less saturated fat. That's the kind found in fatty cuts of meat, baked goods, and full-fat dairy products.

  • Switch to lean meats.

  • Avoid trans fats. These are partially hydrogenated oils found in many processed foods and baked goods.

  • Use monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They lower cholesterol and heart-disease risk. Skim milk, nuts, avocados, olives, soybeans, and vegetable oils made from soy, flaxseed, corn, and canola all contain these heart-healthy fats. Yet, even though these are heart-healthy fats, they are calorically dense, so watch portion sizes.

  • Add fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Raw produce is especially good.

  • Cut back on sugars. Avoid foods with lots of sugar, such as soda, candy, and cookies.