Skinny or not, it’s belly fat that increases health risks according to new guidelines published by the American Heart Association.
Visceral adipose tissue, or VAT is not good for the body
The new study found that measuring waist circumference should go hand-in-hand with stepping on a scale as part of any health assessment. That’s because new research is showing that a protruding tummy may be a sign of what is called visceral adipose tissue, or VAT – a dangerous form of fat that wraps itself around organs deep inside our body.
“Studies that have examined the relationship between abdominal fat and cardiovascular issues confirm that visceral fat is a clear health hazard.” said Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley, chief of the social determinants of obesity and cardiovascular risk laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland
How belly fat is different
Unlike fat thats just under our skin which is called subcutaneous fat, visceral fat on the other hand raises the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and high cholesterol. Experts think that’s because visceral fat makes more inflammatory proteins that narrow blood vessels, raise blood pressure and inflame tissues and organs.
Experts stress that just because a person is normal weight they can’t assume they’re safe from visceral fat. That’s because one can have dangerous visceral fat that’s around the organs on the inside.
Do a gut check
How can we check if our stomach is protruding into dangerous territory? Doctors recommend doing a gut check.
Find your hip bone. Then take out a tape measure and — without sucking in your tummy, wrap it around your waist at the top of your hipbone (which is typically across the belly button). Exhale normally, and measure, making sure that the tape is parallel to the floor and snug, but not tight, across the skin.
Women with a waist size greater than 35 inches (88 cm) and men with a waist larger than 40 inches (102 cm), are at higher risk according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re of Asian descent, the benchmark for visceral fat drops to 31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men, according to the Endocrine Society.
You can also compare your waist-to-hip ratio. Start by measuring your waist as instructed above, then place the tape measure on your hips at the widest part of your buttocks (as viewed from the side in a mirror). Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement:
For men, a ratio of greater than 0.9 indicates an increased risk of obesity-related disease. For women, a ratio of greater than 0.8 shows increased risk.
But these are rough measures to give you an idea of where you stand health wise. The only sure way to know experts suggest is to check your visceral fat levels on a CT scan or MRI. Then discuss your concerns with your doctor.
What to do?
According to the American Heart Association (AMA) the best physical activity to reduce abdominal obesity is aerobic exercise.
The AMA recommends “reaching a target of 150 minutes a week of physical activity particularly aerobic activity which may be enough to help reduce abdominal fat. The benefits seems to be the case even if the exercise does not produce weight loss“.
This decrease in abdominal fat without weight loss may be related to the increase in muscle mass which comes with aerobic exercise. That’s because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue.” said Powell-Wiley, who was the chair of the AHA guidelines writing committee.
What is aerobic exercise?
Aerobic means “with oxygen,” hence aerobic exercise increases your breathing rate and promotes the circulation of oxygen through the blood. This type of exercise makes the heart more efficient and improves its ability to move oxygen-carrying blood with every beat.
Speed walking, jogging, bicycling, stair climbing, cycling and swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise.
Strength training important to build muscle but sit ups don’t help with visceral fat
Strength training is good at building muscle which in turn burns more fat. However spot exercises such as sit-ups which can tighten abdominal muscles are shown not to target visceral fat. You have to get your whole body moving for visceral fat to come down.
Cut down on sugar especially sugary drinks
Sugar is has shown to especially be bad when it comes to belly fat, according to numerous studies. Sugar sweetened drinks are the worst culprit because the brain doesn’t register liquid calories the same manner as solid calories; consequently we end up drinking more total calories.
Instead, fill up on soluble fiber-rich foods that the body can’t absorb easily, like beans, oats, oat bran, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, apples, strawberries, peas and sweet potatoes.
Watching weight and eating healthy are most important
Eating a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and little processed meat, saturated fats and sweets – yada yada yada – how many times have we heard these words? This is the formula for a healthy life.
Eat lots of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fruits, and exercise often for a healthy life 🍎❤️