Although we all come in different sizes and every body is different, experts say there are four body shapes that all women fall into. Body shapes are largely determined by bone structure, genetics and age and, although lifestyle factors make a huge difference to the dimensions of your body, it can be difficult to change your basic shape.
By identifying your body shape, you can work with it to improve your overall health and appearance. Here are the four main female body shapes and what they mean for your health.
Apple-shaped individuals carry excess weight around their abdomens (a "spare tyre") and don't have well-defined waistlines. Weight gain tends to go straight to the tummy area and results in a rounded profile.
Apple-shaped women tend to be at greater risk of many health issues than those of other shapes, according to studies, including diabetes, heart problems, breast cancer, depression and fertility issues. Anybody carrying excess weight will improve their health and fitness through diet and exercise. But it is especially important for apple-shaped women to take steps to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. To reduce your waistline, opt for a minimum of 30 minutes of cardio exercise every day (running, swimming, aerobics) to target fat and improve heart health.
Also make dietary changes by cutting back on calories (sticking to around 1500 calories a day), opting for low-GI foods and cutting out saturated fats as much as possible. Research also suggests stress can lead to increased storage of fat around the middle, apple-shaped women may also find it helpful to supplement their cardio workouts with exercise such as yoga or Tai Chi.
The "ruler" refers to a body shape where fat is distributed evenly and measurements of chest, hips and waist are all relatively similar, giving the body a straight ruler shape. Ruler-shaped women are not exempt from weight problems (you can still be overweight and a ruler); however, many slender women do fall into this category.
Ruler-shaped women tend to have faster metabolisms than those of other shapes, so they lose weight more easily through diet and exercise. But without an appropriate diet and exercise plan, ruler-shaped women tend to gain weight on the stomach, leading to similar health issues as apple-shaped females.
Luckily, weight gain and loss tends to be pretty even. But this can also frustrate women who want a shapelier figure. Regular cardio workouts are essential for keeping weight off and maintaining good health; and a programme of resistance training will help sculpt the body. Building up muscles in the chest and bum and tightening the core can create definition and add curves. Many ruler-shaped women are naturally thin but it is still important for them to follow a healthy diet. A poor diet can still lead to poor health and energy levels, regardless of your weight. Opt for a balanced diet high in nutritious foods rather than empty calories.
Researchers at North Carolina State University say just over a fifth of women are pear-shaped. Women of this shape have a larger hip than bust measurement and weight tends to settle on the lower part of the body; the bum, hips and thighs.
Research has found that pear-shaped women are at greater risk of dangerous blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and are more likely to suffer from memory loss and arthritis later in life. However, on a brighter note, studies have also found that having a big bum and thighs has some great health benefits, as fat stored in this area mops up harmful fatty acids and cuts risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Being overweight still has health implications regardless of where it is stored. And without careful weight management pear-shaped women can start to pile on weight on the abdomen and waist, too.
Focus on cardio exercises that target the lower body, such as step aerobics, cycling and walking, to maintain a healthy weight. Resistance training for the upper body can also help balance shape. Pear-shaped women should also implement a healthy, balanced eating plan that can help with weight maintenance and prevent cellulite. Eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can also help ward off memory problems and Alzheimer's, which appear to be more prevalent in pear-shaped women.
The hourglass shape is one of the most sought-after body shapes but also one of the least common, belonging to just 8 per cent of women. For hourglass-shaped women the hip and bust measurements are of a similar size, with a much narrower waist measurement. Weight gain tends to accumulate on the chest, arms, hips and bum rather than on the abdomen.
Hourglass-shaped women are lucky - weight distribution tends to be even, rather than accumulating in one particular area of the body. They also tend not to gain weight on the abdomen. And research has suggested women with hourglass figures are more fertile and may have higher intelligence levels.
Hourglass figures tend to be quite well balanced, so should focus on maintaining their shape with full-body workouts such as circuit training; combining cardio to keep off excess weight and resistance training to tone up. A healthy balanced diet will also help maintain curves.
Like apple-shaped women, hourglass-shaped women may choose relaxing exercises such as yoga, as studies suggest that stress can cause fat to shift from the hips to the waist. As curvy hourglass women are also prone to back pain, try doing exercises which strengthen the core and improve posture, such as pilates, and invest in a good, supportive exercise bra for all workouts.
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