Are abs worth it?

young man sportsman doing abs exercises at stadium
(Photo: Envato Elements)
When thinking of peak fitness, the image of shredded six-pack abs is the most common image to come to mind. Social media and Hollywood have given the impression that one should have a shredded six-pack to be healthy, especially for men.اضافة اعلان

Many diet and workout fads promote certain regimens that can “guarantee” abs in a short amount of time. However, it turns out that having a six-pack may not be as healthy as portrayed and could come with certain risks.

Spine support
The word “abs” comes from the word “abdomen”, which is the region between the chest and the waist. The five different muscles that make up the abdomen are the pyramidalis, rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis. These muscles, in conjunction, serve many purposes but most importantly, they help support the spine and facilitate movements such as bending over and twisting.

Regarding abs, the rectus abdominis is largely the muscle responsible. It is a pair of vertical muscles that run down the middle of the abdomen. These segments appear as bumps in pairs. As many as 12 bumps can appear, but six is the most common. The visible appearance of bumps is colloquially referred to as six-pack abs.

Types of body fat and genetics
The fitness industry often presents certain workouts as a surefire way to get a visible set of abs. Although certain workouts help tone the muscle, the truth is that two main factors make a six-pack visible. The first factor is belly fat.

There are generally three types of body fat: essential, subcutaneous, and visceral. Essential body fat is a percentage of fat that the body needs to function properly and is vital to life.

In men, essential body fat makes up approximately 2­–5 percent of body weight; in women, it is 10–13 percent. Subcutaneous body fat is stored fat that builds up in between the skin and muscle and is what can affect our body shape. Visceral fat is also stored fat but is found under the abdominal muscles and along the vital organs in the abdomen.

Concerning abs, subcutaneous fat is largely responsible for whether or not they are visible. The less subcutaneous fat, the more visible a six-pack will be. Although high visceral fat levels are more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, it does not necessarily affect the appearance of a six-pack.

The second major factor is genetics and sex; both dictate how and where our body stores fat first. Fat is generally distributed between the hips, buttocks, lower abdomen, and thighs for women. In men, fat is usually distributed along the upper body but predominately in the abdomen.

Although there is a large disparity in fat distribution between men and women, individual variations are also dependent on genetics.

Health consequences
Due to aggressive marketing from food and fitness fads, body fat has been demonized for decades. Although too much body fat indeed has health implications, not having enough can also be bad for health. A 1996 meta-analysis found that moderately low body mass index in men had comparable mortality to that of those considered extremely overweight.

Generally speaking, the normal range for total body fat should be 17–25 percent in men and 29–36 percent in women, although estimates vary between sources. There is no universal percentage of body fat at which a six-pack will become visible, but it is estimated to fall in the range of 10­–12 percent body fat for men and 16–20 percent in women.

Fat helps regulate body temperature, hormone production, neurological function, and reproduction and serves as an energy reserve. Lower body fat percentages create a high potential for fertility issues, a weakening in the immune system, cognitive functioning, and even the storage of certain vital vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Low body fat can even affect muscle mass and gains.

An unhealthy obsession with obtaining a six-pack may also lead to body image issues, which could bring on a whole host of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

So is it worth it?
The answer to this depends heavily on what your goal is. A visible six-pack could be good if your goal is to improve your core and lead a healthy lifestyle. However, if your goal is just to have an aesthetic six-pack by any means necessary, then the answer is probably not.

Working out your core inherently has many great benefits, especially improving your core strength, which can improve balance, core endurance, and even running efficiency. For those with lower back pain, ab workouts can help improve the pain.

Fitness benefits
Core exercises should be integrated into your routine and be done 2­–3 times a week, not just for the pursuit of abs but for general health benefits.

Exercising with cardio and resistance training, in general, can help develop and build muscle mass while also shedding excess body fat. A well-balanced diet can help with fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Sleep can also help with getting better abs since receiving less than seven hours a night is associated with higher weight gain and obesity rates.

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