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The Truth About Belly Fat

Being overweight or obese surely puts you at a high risk for disease.

We wrote about this over a year ago on our blog and now a new study — yet another — out of the Mayo Clinic supports the claim that excess belly fat is even more dangerous than simply being obese.

Once again, even more important than simply reading the number on the scale, is where you carry your body weight.

Very simply, the size of your belly matters.

On the flipside, if you carry more of your weight in your hips and thighs, you’re at less of a risk.

Here’s the deal:

There are different types of fat in the body:

Visceral fat lies beneath the abdominal muscle, so is not visible.

On the other hand, subcutaneous fat is right underneath the skin, so can be seen.

And while it’s been established for a bit that those who have more belly fat, or visceral fat, are at a significantly higher heart disease and diabetes risk …

… this new study out of Mayo Clinic supports this notion.

In this particular study, researchers found even if you had a "normal" body mass index (BMI — which is a tool to define overweight/obesity) if you were apple shaped (a high waist-to-hip ratio), you were more likely to die from any cause, even compared to those who were obese!

The reason for this is that visceral fat surrounds the vital organs.  It also releases various hormones that have been linked to disease.  In a nutshell, belly fat is VERY dangerous!

In general, most women carry more of their weight in their lower body and men carry more of their weight around their middle…and that lower body fat may be actually somewhat protective.  We’re not suggesting gaining weight to protect you from heart disease, but when solely comparing the two types of fat, visceral fat is much more dangerous.

And, while it’s more common for men to carry their weight in their upper body, as women age, hormonal shifts tend to cause a shift in where body fat is stored.  It’s therefore not uncommon for women who go through menopause to gain more fat around their belly too.

So what can be done about this? 

First, measure your belly and see if you’re at risk.

Run a tape measure around your midsection at about the level of your belly button.  Breathe normally, don’t suck in, or pull the tape so tight you lose oxygen.

Goal: < 35” for women, and <40” for men.

How do you fare?

Fortunately visceral fat responds very well to exercise … in particular, high intensity exercise. 

A study published just a few years ago out of the University of Virginia — "Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition” — showed that those who exercised at the highest intensities (of course that is relative, depending on your current fitness level) had the greatest loss in belly fat!

Of course any movement is better than none, but this gives more reason to kick things up a notch!

And surely what you eat plays a big role too.

Check out our recent article for more specific ideas on interval training for fat loss?

And here are two more pieces for more ideas on weight loss strategies.

10 Permanent Fat Loss Strategies

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