You may think belly fat is limited to the stuff out front that you can grab with your hand — but it's the fat you can't see that's really a cause for concern. Visceral fat lies deep inside the abdomen, surrounding the abdominal organs. Gaining this type of fat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health problems.
Subcutaneous fat, located between the skin and the abdominal wall, is more visible but also less likely to be a health risk.
While a slowing metabolism and decreased physical activity contribute to overall weight gain as you age, those factors don't influence visceral fat accumulation directly. Heredity may be the culprit — you may simply have inherited a tendency to gain weight in your midsection.
Are you an Apple or Pear?
Most people agree that excess weight is bad for your health. But now researchers have shown that “how” it’s stored on the body is the key link to the risk of future health problems.
Apple-shaped people store body fat around the abdomen and chest, surrounding internal organs, such as the heart.
Pear-shaped people store fat on the hips and thighs, just below the surface of the skin.
The good news for Pears is that the excess fat they store in the lower body is not necessarily a risk to their health. Apples, however, have a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and gall bladder disease. Even when Apples and Pears have similar body weights, these diseases progress faster and more seriously in Apples than in Pears.
Does your body shape change when you lose weight? It depends on whether you are an Apple or a Pear. When Apples lose weight, they do reduce the fat in the upper body, so they look different (and reduce their risk of disease). Pears also tend to lose fat in the upper body, so even when they lose weight, their overall shape does not change much. In short, a Pear will always be a Pear.
The midsection matters
Gaining weight in your abdomen does more harm than simply making your waist wider. Too much belly fat increases your risk of:
High blood pressure
Researchers also have found that abdominal fat cells aren't just dormant energy waiting to be burned up. The cells are active, producing hormones and other substances that can affect your health.
Since visceral fat is buried deep in your abdomen, it may seem like a difficult place to reduce fat. As it turns out, visceral fat responds well to a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet. Ab exercises can help to firm the abdominal muscles and flatten the belly.
Exercise , Diet and Whole Grains
- Add time to your workouts (duration) -- If you're a beginner, focus on the length of your workouts. Work at a comfortable pace and increase workout time every week by 5 to 10 minutes.
- Increase intensity – (how hard you work out) Add short bursts of speed or resistance to your workouts or practice going faster than you normally do.
- Increase your frequency (how much you workout) -- Add a day of cardio after you've been exercising for about 2 to 3 weeks.
- Don’t try to do everything in one day..splitting it up is fine
Changing unhealthy eating habits can help fight belly fat. Read nutrition labels, and replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. Increase portions of complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, and reduce simple carbohydrates like white bread and refined pasta. If you need to lose weight, reduce your portion sizes and daily calorie intake.
Whole grains are a great source of fiber and are proven to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. What makes them even better is they may actually help reduce fat around the belly.
In one study, researchers followed a group of obese men and women. The men and women were randomly assigned to two groups: One told to get all of their grain servings from whole grains and the other to avoid whole grain foods. The whole-grain group lost more body fat around the abs than the other group. The USDA recommends men and women get a minimum of about 3 to 4 ounces of whole grains a day. If you don't have your handy-dandy food scale available, below are some examples of whole grains that would satisfy the basic requirements:
5 whole wheat crackers
1 packet of instant oatmeal
3 cups of popped popcorn
1/2 cup of cooked whole grain rice
1/2 cup of cooked whole grain pasta
- Researchers followed a group of women who lifted weights three times a week for 16 weeks. At the end of that time, the women significantly decreased abdominal fat (along with overall body fat) and increased strength and muscle as well. It's clear that strength training doesn't just contribute to a leaner body, but a leaner midsection as well.
- Another study in which obese participants were split into two groups. One group dieted to lose weight, while the other combined diet and exercise. At the end of the study, the group who both dieted and exercised reduced more belly fat than the other group.
Moderate wine consumption has some health benefits, including increasing good cholesterol. Another possible benefit is a lower waist circumference.
In some studies, researchers found that moderate wine drinkers show the lowest accumulation of ab fat among drinkers. If you don't drink, that doesn't mean you should start. Alcohol adds extra calories to your diet, so cutting it out can help with weight loss. Moderate-to-high consumption of alcohol and of beer and spirits was associated with later high waist circumference, whereas moderate-to-high wine consumption may have the opposite effect.
If you do drink, however, this is a good time to assess your habits and change them to be a bit healthier. Drinking one or two glasses of wine may serve you better than hard liquor, especially if you're watching your weight. Remember to always drink responsibly.
High Intensity Interval Training
A HIIT session consists of a warm up period of exercise, followed by six to ten repetitions of high intensity exercise, separated by medium intensity exercise, and ending with a period of cool down exercise. The high intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity. The medium exercise should be about half-maximum intensity. The number of repetitions and length of each depends on the exercise. The goal is to do at least six cycles, and to have the entire HIIT session last at least fifteen minutes and not more than twenty.
HIIT has been known to not only burn fat during the workout but even up to 24 hours after the workout. Another extra benefit is the entire HIIT workout last only 15-30 minutes. So this means no more long walks on the treadmill if it was beginning to bore you.
It’s very important that warm up and warm down periods is added into every HIIT training program and because of the high level of intensity, 2 days a week is sufficient.
How to measure abdominal fat:
The simplest way to check for abdominal fat is to measure your waist. Run a tape measure around your torso at about the level of your right hipbone (where it intersects a line dropped vertically from the middle of the right armpit). Breathe minimally, and make sure not to pull the tape measure so tight that it depresses the skin. In women with a BMI of 25–34.9, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches is considered high risk, although research suggests there is some extra health risk at any size greater than 33 inches. A study in the September 2006 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in women, a large waist was correlated with diabetes risk — even when BMI was in the normal range (18.5–24.9). Since abdominal fat can be a problem despite a normal BMI, health assessments should include both BMI and waist circumference. The relationship between waist circumference and health risk varies by ethnic group.
Body mass index (BMI): A ratio of weight in kilograms to the square of height in meters, BMI helps identify people whose weight increases their risk for several conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. People with BMIs of 25–29.9 are considered overweight, and those with BMIs of 30 or over, obese. However, some researchers think BMI isn’t always a valid indication of obesity, because it gives misleading results in people who are very muscular or very tall.
To calculate your BMI, go to www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi
Waist-to-hip ratio: divide your waist measurement at its narrowest point by your hip measurement at its widest point. As a marker of a person’s abdominal fat, this measure outperforms BMI. For women, the risk for heart disease and stroke begins to rise at a ratio of about 0.8.
** Aging-related weight gain
The Effect of Combined Aerobic and Resistance Exercise Training on Abdominal Fat in Obese Middle-aged Women PARK S-K Journal of Physiological Anthropology vol: 22 issue: 3 page: 129-135 year: 2003
Abdominal fat and what to do about it. Harvard Women's Health Watch.
Pischon, T. The New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 12, 2008; vol 359: pp 2105-2120