We all have our areas where we would like to trim a little fat. But beyond the aesthetics, where on our bodies is fat a real concern?
Around the midriff has been highlighted as the main area we should be keeping an eye on.
Research has shown that being “apple-shaped” as opposed to “pear-shaped” means you have a higher risk of suffering from high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
The study of more than 430,000 people found that “apples”, who are rounder around the middle, also have a higher risk of insulin intolerance. That makes it harder for their bodies to process sugar.
So what is it about this area that makes it so much more dangerous?
Essentially, it’s because this is where we store visceral fat. That’s the type of body fat stored within the abdominal cavity around a number of important internal organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines.
Storing higher amounts of visceral fat is associated with an array of health problems. These include type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, stroke, Alzheimers, dementia, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a higher risk of developing heart disease.
That’s why waist to hip ratio is one of the factors we look at when assessing health and fitness levels.
So, if you’re carrying heavy in this area it’s time to reassess your overall health and fitness.
Although it’s impossible to spot reduce fat, studies have revealed certain ways of tackling visceral fat more effectively.
Up the exercise
By achieving weight loss of between 5% to 10% of your total body weight, you can help reduce those visceral fat stores.
That means creating a calorie deficit. This can be achieved by burning calories through exercise, and reducing calories through diet.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio every day. This could be brisk walking, cycling or circuit training – any activity that gets you moving and your heart rate up.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has also been shown to be beneficial in tackling abdominal fat.
A 2009 University of Virginia study found that HIIT helped reduce both visceral and subcutaneous fat around this area.
Although controversial, low carb diets have been shown by certain studies to be an effective way to reduce visceral fat. In fact, evidence suggests that this type of diet is more effective than low fat diets.
An eight week study of 69 overweight men and women found that people who followed a low carb diet lost 10% more visceral fat and 4.4% more total fat than those on a low fat diet.
The yet more controversial ketogenic diet which incorporates higher quantities of fat and is extremely low carb, has also been shown to be effective in tackling visceral fat, even when consuming a higher number of calories per day.
Nonetheless, for those preferring a less drastic approach, simply creating a calorie deficit is an effective strategy.
After all, if you eat more calories than the energy you use, you store that excess fuel in the form of fat.
If you struggle with your diet, work with a nutrition expert to create a plan that will enable you to lose the necessary weight without jeopardising your health and wellbeing.
Extremes of sleep duration have been related to increases in abdominal fat in people younger than 40 years old.
Researchers found that people who slept less than five hours at night gained more abdominal fat over a five year period, than those who averaged over six hours per night. The study found that short sleepers showed a 32% gain in visceral fat.
But sleeping too much also had an impact.
There was a 22% increase in visceral fat among men and women who got at least eight hours of sleep each night.
That’s compared with a 13% gain among those who slept six or seven hours per night.
High levels of stress have also been connected with abdominal fat.
A Yale study showed that women who weren’t overweight but were “vulnerable to stress” were more likely to have excess abdominal fat and higher levels of stress hormone cortisol.
People with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol, such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing’s disease, have also been found to have excessive amounts of visceral fat.
Cortisol affects fat distribution within the body, causing fat to be stored centrally around the organs.
Ditch the fags
Just in case you hadn’t read the memo yet – smoking is bad for you!
Ok, so no surprises there, but if you are partial to the occasional ciggie, be warned the habit can be encouraging the accumulation of visceral fat.
A 2009 study from the Netherlands found that smokers had more visceral fat – deep fat that pads our internal organs – than nonsmokers.
Are you concerned about where you’re storing fat?