Thursday, September 20, 2007

Learning to love apples

I always imagined I had an hourglass figure; very Marilyn Monroe, very Sophia Loren, very Scarlett Johansson. When I discovered I was an apple - prone to a big stomach and a flat bum - I can't tell you how disappointed I was. Luckily, all is not lost.

According to British fitness guru Matt Roberts, I can accentuate my positives and eliminate the negatives through appropriate exercises for my body shape. With the right kind of cardio and moves that focus on my obliques, I may just be able to have the figure I thought I had.

Disillusionment about body image isn't uncommon, with a reported three out of five women and one out of five men willing to give up a few years of their life for their ideal body. According to a study from the University of Colorado, we're not only happy to die young and beautiful but our interpretation of our actual size is way off the mark - often we imagine we're about 30 per cent bigger than we really are. Given our disillusionment it's no surprise that most of us cite losing weight or toning up as the reasons we want to exercise, but we often try to "spot" reduce those wobbly bits without really thinking through what we're trying to achieve.

Fitness exports have long dismissed the theory of targeting exercise to banish "trouble spots". Research seems to suggest, however, that exercising for your body shape can have significant health benefits.

"Just as you would choose the right clothes to enhance your figure and help you look slimmer," says Sydney personal trainer Dean Piazza, "you must also choose the right exercises and activities for your body shape."

It's not just about aesthetics, however. According to author and women's health expert Dr Marie Savard, your body shape can be a predictor for the development of disorders including diabetes and breast cancer, so understanding your body shape and how to look after it is crucial for good health.

The risks are linked to where you store fat and the way your body reacts to this. For example, fat stored around the tummy is a hormone and chemical powerhouse that can lead to increased risk of serious medical disorders, while excess fat stored in the "pear area" can be protective. Conversely, those with a "tube shape", as described by Roberts, can be susceptible to being underweight and the risk factors associated with that, such as infertility.

"Every aspect of a woman's life is affected by her shape," Savard says, "including her ability to lose weight, her fertility, severity of menopausal symptoms, response to birth control pills and hormone replacement, emotional volatility, body image and long-term risks of breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other disorders."

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