You think you’re doing all the right things: exercising, eating healthy, and keeping your weight in check. So why do you look down and see that bulge hanging over your belt line?
Our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter can’t promise that the following tips will give you a washboard abdomen, but we do know that you can at least reduce the problem area if you know what causes it and, therefore, how to combat it.
The dangers of belly fat
First of all, you need to know that belly fat is more than just unsightly: It can lead to numerous health problems.
It used to be thought that fat was fat, but like “bad” and “good” cholesterol, different types of fat can have different impacts on the body. A 2015 study of more than 15,000 people over 14 years found that normal-weight men with big bellies were 35 percent more likely to die than those without extra abdominal fat.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that increasing stomach fat is associated with newly identified and worsening heart disease risk factors.
“These adverse changes in cardiovascular risk were evident over a relatively short period of time and persisted even after accounting for changes in body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, two commonly used methods to estimate whether someone is a healthy weight or not,” the authors reported. About 44 percent of the study participants were women, showing that the dangers of belly fat affect both sexes equally.
The authors also reported that “individuals with greater increases in fat inside the abdominal cavity showed substantial increases in metabolic risk factors, including high blood sugar, high triglycerides, and low HDL, or good, cholesterol.”
A 2020 study, published in the journal BMJ, found that each 10-centimeter increase in belly fat (about four inches) raised the risk of death from any cause by eight percent for women and 12 percent for men.
Why the increased risk?
“Not all fat is equal,” Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and the study leader told USA Today.
Belly fat is actually two kinds of fat (adipose tissue): subcutaneous and visceral.
Subcutaneous fat is stored just beneath the skin. It’s the kind you can “pinch an inch” (or more) of.
Visceral fat is the more dangerous kind. It’s found deeper in the belly and surrounds the abdominal organs such as the liver and intestines. This type of fat secretes more chemicals (adipokines) that trigger inflammation, which is a prime cause of numerous chronic and deadly diseases.
This is why increased belly fat has been shown to increase the risk of numerous diseases, including:
cardiovascular disease (CVD)
type 2 diabetes
certain types of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer
high blood pressure
In addition, two separate studies found that excess belly fat was linked with a greater risk of dementia, regardless of other factors.
How to reduce it
First of all, you can’t “target” belly fat through spot exercises. Nor is diet alone sufficient.
That’s because having fat in the abdominal region allows to body to easily access it for quick energy, reports U.S. News.
“It’s easy to accumulate but harder to get rid of since the body doesn’t want to part with easy energy,” Erin Palinski-Wade, Sparta, New Jersey-based registered dietitian and author of “Belly Fat Diet for Dummies,” told U.S. News.
But it’s not impossible to lose your excess belly fat. It is just a more effective strategy to lose overall body fat, which will help reduce your midsection, as well.
Here are some tips from the experts.
- Lose the carbs or at least cut back.
“The overconsumption of carbohydrates and processed foods are the primary contributors to the accumulation of abdominal fat,” internist Spencer Kroll, M.D., who specializes in cholesterol and lipid diseases in Marlboro, New Jersey, told Forbes Health.
This includes sugar and alcohol, both of which provide unnecessary calories. It’s not necessary to cut out carbs altogether, but any reduction will help.
- Learn to handle stress better.
Stress plays a major role in our overall health. Too much for too long means, the body is constantly fighting excess cortisol in the bloodstream, which in turn helps fat accumulate in the abdomen.
Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, practice slow deep belly breathing (this video from the American Lung Association shows how https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/patient-resources-and-videos/belly-breathing-video), and try to take stress breaks throughout the day to do something you enjoy.
“Better sleep hygiene and stress reduction can help with fat loss,” Kroll told Forbes Health.
- Exercise the right way.
All the abdominal crunches in the world won’t affect that spare tire unless they succeed in helping you lose weight overall and in building muscle mass. The right kind of exercise, however, can make a difference.
“When people lose weight, some of the weight they lose will be muscle mass, if they don’t exercise,” Lopez-Jimenez told USA Today. “If you just lose weight but don’t build muscle, you may not be improving your health that much.”
So incorporate a mix of resistance training (such as weight training or bodyweight training) and aerobic activity to burn fat and increase your metabolic rate.
It’s not impossible to lose belly fat, and for optimal health overall, these steps can help.