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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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8 Responses to The Truth About Belly Fat

  1. Mark February 11, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Another good article. Thanks for the information. I have seen some articles on brown fat. I would like to see a article on this.

    • Jason February 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

      Jeff Volek and others have done some good research on "adipokines", which are hormone like substances secreted from visceral fat. Over 50 adipokines had been discovered last I heard, among them resistin, interleukin-6, RBP4, etc. They cause endothelial inflammation, insulin resistance, and other "diseases of civilization"..
      As for the study regarding higher intensity exercise and visceral adiposity, just go to google scholar or pub med and look it up. There are quite a few other studies showing that higher intensity exercise most effectively decreases visceral fat,, primarily due to increasing insulin sensitivity in skeletal mucle tissue.  
      Hope this helps…

      • Chris and Kara Mohr February 12, 2010 at 7:57 am #

        Thanks for the additions, Jason … Jeff has done some great work in this area for sure.

  2. Arlen Barnette March 26, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    There is no better way of abdominal fat loss than to eat balanced foods and a nutritious diet. Indulge yourself into activities that will allow you to sweat. Do cardio exercises or try running, jogging or walking. There are just so many things that you can do to encourage fat loss. Weight training has the ability to increase lean muscle mass as well as your metabolic rate. This means that you can burn fat even when you are resting. So now, try to look for activities that may encourage flatter abdomen!

  3. Barb November 9, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Love the simple measurement to “test” yourself! Followed by What to do about it!! Thanks!

  4. Joyce November 11, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    I like your article about belly fat. I have a question and I am wondering if you have encountered this situation. I have three female clients who have this same issue. All three are very lean everywhere but in their belly. They have nice sculpted arms, and lean muscular legs, but they carry this jiggly fat through their midsection. It is not just a small roll above their waistline. These clients exercise very intensely. I am a Crossfit instructor and our workouts are hard. They have tried eating very “clean” and can have it decrease a little with that…but it really doesn’t seem to want to budge much. All three have had children. Any thoughts on this from anyone?

    • Chris and Kara Mohr November 11, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Hi Joyce,

      There’s a lot to it — of course people carry weight differently, depending on their body type, diet, hormones, exercise, etc. High intensity exercise has been shown to help shed fat, particularly around the middle. Carbohydrate intake can also play a role because of how it affects insulin release, then in turn cortisol, etc. I’d make sure there’s some higher intensity exercise a couple times per week and really have her watch her carb intake — not ‘no’ carbs, but lowER carbs and of course quality!

  5. Mike August 31, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    Awesome ! Thanks.

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