By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer
Beer gut, pooch, spare tire, pot belly. Whatever you call it, excess fat around your middle is bad news for your health.
Carrying too much weight in your midsection has been linked to metabolic disorders, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. In women, obesity has also been connected to an increased risk of breast cancer and gallbladder disease.
What makes belly fat so bad?
Most of the fat that collects around your middle is visceral fat. This means that it fills the space between the organs in your abdomen. Unlike fat below the skin, visceral fat is close to organs like your liver and pancreas. It affects the hormones in your body and can slow down your body's response to insulin. That's why it can cause diabetes and other health problems.
Is your waist too big?
Even if you haven't gained any weight recently, or weren't overweight in the first place, your waistline might have grown. As we age, our bodies tend to change where they "hold onto" fat, and more of it may end up around your middle. This is especially true of women going through menopause. That's why it's important to measure your waist circumference.
Your doctor may do this at a checkup, or you can do it at home. Undress and hold a tape measure around your abdomen just above your hip bone. Hold the tape flush against your skin, without pulling. Make sure it is straight and parallel to the floor, not angled up or down. Take a breath, exhale, and then take the measurement. For women, a number over 35 is considered high risk. For men, the cutoff is 40 inches - even if you're not overweight.
How can you reduce belly fat?
Many people think that doing targeted exercises like sit-ups and crunches can burn away fat around their middles. But the truth is that we can't "spot reduce" in this way, even though these exercises do help tighten the abdominal muscles and increase core body strength.
Plastic surgery like liposuction only removes fat below the skin, called subcutaneous fat. This type of fat - think "love handles" - can be harder to get rid of by diet and exercise than fat in other parts of the body. It also does not pose the same health risks as visceral fat.
To reduce visceral fat, you need to lose weight overall. The best way is to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Aim to eat mostly whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein - and limit your intake of processed foods and sugars. Adding activity to the mix is also important. Studies have shown that at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise - like brisk walking or jogging - can help reduce visceral fat. Strength training a few times a week can also help. Always check with your doctor before you increase your activity level, though.
If you don't exercise, your fat stores will likely just keep increasing, along with possible health problems. Do your waistline - and your well-being - a favor by taking small steps toward getting healthier.
This article was reviewed and updated
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