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You probably know that your belly is the most dangerous place for harboring the excess fat. Having a toned midsection is not only about looking better. It’s also about being healthier. But why is it dangerous? What are the health risks that it poses? Below, you can learn about the dangers of belly fat and what you can do to reduce your waist size.
What Is Belly Fat?
Not all fat is created equal. There are three types of fat, which includes triglycerides, subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. The first one is the fat that circulates in your blood. The second one sits under your skin and above the muscle layer. It’s typically found on the thighs, buttocks and upper arms. And the last type, the visceral fat, is the deeper belly fat that accumulates around your abdominal organs, such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. Of the three, the visceral fat is the most dangerous.
Having too much belly fat isn’t necessarily an obvious thing. Even if you’re at a healthy weight, you might have excess abdominal fat.
To know if you have too much belly fat, you need to take a measurement of your waist. Stand straight and wrap a measuring tape around your waist, an inch or two above your hip bone. Don’t suck in that gut and take an honest measurement. If the result shows over 35 inches for women or over 40 inches for men, it indicates an unhealthy amount of belly fat.
The problem with visceral fat is that it’s much more active in comparison to other types of fat. It secretes hormones and inflammatory factory, which has been linked to several serious diseases.
What Causes Excess Belly Fat?
Visceral fat accumulation is typically a result of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyle. If you eat too much and don’t exercise enough, there’s an imbalance between the calories you consume and the energy you burn. This makes you more likely to pack on extra fat, including in the belly area.
Genetics, gender and hormones also play a role. You genes contribute to your chances of being overweight or obese and they also determine where your body accumulates the most fat.
Young women usually gain more weight on their legs and bottoms, while men are more likely to gain it on their bellies. This might explain why men in their 40s are more likely to suffer from heart disease. However, when women reach menopause, they also start accumulating more fat in the middle. And around this time their risk of heart disease catches up with men’s.
Hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, also contribute. Low estrogen levels signal the body to accumulate belly fat, especially in menopausal women. High testosterone levels in women are also associated with more visceral fat. Too much cortisol due to exposure to stress can also cause abdominal fat accumulation.
The Dangers of Belly Fat
Studies have shown that excess belly fat can lead to insulin resistance, which makes the person more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Insulin is a crucial hormone for our bodies that helps us burn energy.
When you eat foods that rapidly convert to sugar in your body, your insulin levels spike. This leaves more insulin circulating in your bloodstream. And if that happens on a regular basis, the exposure of cells to high levels of insulin can over time lead to them being less sensitive to it.
As a result of insulin resistance, your body’s muscles, fat and liver are not as responsive to insulin anymore, which also means that they can’t easily take up glucose. Your body responds to this by making your pancreas produce more insulin, so that glucose can enter cells for energy use. This leaves more insulin trapped in the bloodstream, which, if left untreated, can lead to diabetes.
Insulin resistance promotes an elevated pattern of lipids in the bloodstream and this puts a person at an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a term that is defined as a cluster of at least three of the following risk factors: abdominal obesity, low HDL levels, high glyceride levels, elevated blood pressure and high fasting glucose.
The more risk factors a person displays, the higher is the risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
If a person has insulin resistance, the energy obtained from carbohydrate-rich meals gets rerouted to triglyceride production. This elevates the triglyceride levels and lowers HDL cholesterol.
Visceral fat secretes more of adipokines, which are chemicals that trigger inflammation. This results in fat cells releasing more fatty acids into the bloodstream, which are then transmitted into LDL cholesterol. High levels of LDL can cause the blood vessels to clog, increasing the person’s risk for heart attack and stroke.
A few recent studies have also uncovered a link between belly fat and cancer. It increases the risk of breast, colorectal, colon, kidney and pancreas cancers.
Visceral fat tissue releases cytokine proteins, which regulate immunity, inflammation and hematopoiesis. Elevated levels of cytokines promote the growth and spread of cancers by triggering cancerous activity in healthy cells and by interfering with other hormones in the body.
How to Get Rid of Belly Fat?
The most effective way to get rid of belly fat is with a combination of diet and exercise. You should do at least 150 minutes of exercise every week. It’s best to include both aerobic activities, as well as some strength training exercises.
Having a proper diet doesn’t mean cutting on the calories but means shifting towards eating more healthily. Avoid foods high in sugar and high in refined carbohydrates. Include more high-fiber foods, such as brown rice, oatmeal or brown bread. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. A good diet would also include plenty of foods high in healthy fats.
In addition to following a healthy diet and staying active, it’s also important to be getting enough sleep. According to studies, those who sleep 5 hours or below, gain more belly fat over time. So, try to get 7-8 hours of rest every night.