Belly fat isn’t just extra weight on your body, it can be a health risk. Irrespective of your overall weight, gaining belly fat increases the risk of many health conditions.
The belly fat in a person is typically determined using waist circumference-to-height ratio or waist-to-hip ratio. The measurement has predicted cardiovascular death independent of BMI, a measure of obesity based on height and weight. (AHA 2021)
Types of Belly Fat
There are broadly two types of fat that gather around the abdomen area – subcutaneous and visceral.
The subcutaneous fat lies between the skin and the outer abdominal wall and is usually the “inch that you can pinch.” The other type of fat accumulating around body organs is called visceral fat. It lies between the abdominal organs and in an apron of tissue called the omentum. (HHP 2021)
There are several reasons for developing belly fat, including a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, little to no exercise, and stress. Age and genetics also play a significant role in adding to the belly fat.
Dangers of Belly Fat
Gaining visceral fat leads to more health complications than having subcutaneous fat. This type of fat is biologically active, leading to hormonal imbalance and producing substances that cause inflammation in the body. It also increases insulin resistance which may lead to diabetes.
Weight gain, especially around the waist area, also raises the risk of major diseases like high blood pressure, asthma, colon or breast cancer, dementia, and premature death.
According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, heart disease risks increase for men over 40 inches and women over 35 inches waist size. (Norton 2021)
Effective Ways to Lose Belly Fat
Here are seven practical ways that can help lose those extra fat layers:
Eat the right food.
Losing extra fat can be challenging if you are not eating the right food. A balanced diet keeps you healthy physically and has a positive impact on your mental health. Include high-fiber food in your diet, such as avocadoes, legumes, brussels sprouts, flax seeds, berries, etc.
Increase your protein intake as it releases the fullness hormone PYY. PYY inhibits gastric motility and increases water and electrolyte absorption in the colon. PYY is secreted in response to a meal, and has been shown to reduce appetite. Protein is found in meat, beans, fish, dairy, eggs, cheese and nuts.
Keep an eye on your portion sizes.
Managing your food intake is as important as making healthy food choices. Every food has a calorie count, and if you don’t control your portion size, these calories add up to be a lot for a healthy person. Reduce your portion sizes at home. At restaurants, you can either share meals or take a part of the meal home with you.
Avoid sweetened beverages.
High-sugar food and sugar-filled beverages are equally harmful to your health. Avoid drinks such as punch, soda, sweet tea, and alcohol mixers containing high doses of sugar. Your body will likely consume more of these beverages as the brain doesn’t regulate liquid calories as quickly as solid calories. In short, you’ll gain belly fat over time.
Cut down on alcohol.
Alcohol in moderation is ok, or else it can increase your belly fat and cause many health problems, including inflammation and liver disease. It’s best to avoid alcoholic drinks as they often contain additional sugar contributing to weight gain.
The Department of Health and Human Services advises moderate aerobic activity like brisk walking for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous exercise like running for at least 75 minutes a week for healthy adults. (Mayo Clinic 2021)
To lose a certain weight or achieve defined fitness goals, you may need to increase time and do strength training exercises. Create ways to add motion to routine tasks like taking stairs instead of elevators, walking to a certain distance each day.
Monitor your sleep cycle.
Medical experts have suggested that getting either less or more sleep is a sign of increased belly fat and is unsuitable for your health. It’s essential to get adequate restful sleep (ideally eight hours) which helps reduce the accumulation of belly fat.
For people with irregular sleep cycles or suspect a sleep disorder such as apnea, speak to a medical professional and get treated.
Change your lifestyle.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle by changing your food habits and day-to-day sleep and exercise routines. Choose a combination of these practical ways to live an active and long life.
Losing belly fat takes time and patience. Speak to your doctor if you have a pre-existing health condition and want to lose belly fat the right way. It is important as we age to watch our waistline as it is a predictor of future health problems. Don’t wait until it is too late to counteract things like heart disease and diabetes.
AHA, American Heart Association News. “Too Much Belly Fat, Even for People with a Healthy BMI, Raises Heart Risks.” Www.heart.org, 2021, www.heart.org/en/news/2021/04/22/too-much-belly-fat-even-for-people-with-a-healthy-bmi-raises-heart-risks.
HHP, Harvard Health Publishing. “Taking Aim at Belly Fat – Harvard Health Publishing.” Harvard Health, 12 Apr. 2021, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat.
Norton, Amy. “You Don’t Have to Be Obese for Belly Fat to Harm You, Heart Experts Warn.” U.S.. News , 22 Apr. 2021, www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-04-22/you-dont-have-to-be-obese-for-belly-fat-to-harm-you-heart-experts-warn.
Mayo Clinic, Staff. “Belly Fat in Men: Why Weight Loss Matters.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Mar. 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/belly-fat/art-20045685.