I admit it! I’m one of the millions of Americans with that extra roll of fat around the belly – along with a muffin top and all the lumps and bumps that go with it. The truth is, it’s not a laughing matter. Beyond being uncomfortable and unattractive, excess belly fat is also a danger to your health.
Most of the fat around our bellies, about 90 percent, is the stuff you can see and feel, the “pinch an inch” fat. This is what’s called subcutaneous fat, and it’s found between the skin and the outer abdominal wall.1 That’s bad enough, but it gets worse.
Deeper than that is another type of fat called visceral fat. This layer lies beneath the abdominal wall and in the space surrounding the liver, intestines and other organs, and is stored in the tissue that covers the intestines. This fat is a factor in a number of health problems. Having a lot of subcutaneous fat is often a sign that you have significant visceral fat, too.
The thing about fat is that it looks like a blob and it feels like a blob, doing nothing but sitting there expanding. In reality, it’s a biologically active tissue, especially the visceral fat. It actually secretes chemicals, like hormones and proteins, that affect other cells in the body. One of the proteins it releases can trigger an inflammatory response, which is a risk factor for heart disease and other chronic conditions.
Higher levels of visceral fat have been implicated in a number of disorders as reported in this article from Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications. The one that stands out the most is cardiovascular disease. Several studies have confirmed this connection.
The fat effect hits cardiovascular disease indirectly by impacting its risk factors. Visceral fat tends to increase blood pressure and blood glucose levels, raise triglycerides and lower HDL (“good” cholesterol). This package of risk factors is also known as metabolic syndrome and it poses a high risk for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
If that’s not enough to get you thinking, consider this. Researchers have also found evidence that links higher levels of visceral fat to an increased risk for dementia, asthma, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Who knows what else?
If you’re feeling moved to do something about the fat around your waist, that’s good because moving is the first thing you need to do. The authors of the Harvard article offer some tips that may help to tackle visceral fat.1 While a lot of it has to do with genetics and other things you can’t control, there are some things you can do, including:
- Exercise – Exercise can help you lose the bulk around your belly. You might not lose pounds, but you can lose visceral fat and gain muscle mass. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week.
- Eat a healthy diet – Eat a balanced diet that can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke – When you smoke, fat tends to collect around your belly rather than your hips and thighs.
- Sleep well – Get a good night’s sleep, but not too much. This applies mostly to people age 40 and under. Try to get more than five hours but not much more than eight a night.
- Monitor your moods – A women’s health study found that those who had more depressive symptoms had more visceral fat. Higher levels of stress hormones were also linked to more visceral fat.
- Cancel the procedure – Forget about the liposuction to remove your belly fat. It doesn’t get inside the abdominal wall to reach the deeper fat.
It’s always best to work closely with your doctor, especially before starting an exercise program. He or she can guide you in the best steps to take to take on you belly bulge. Good luck!