There are many different types of body shapes and sizes – and all are beautiful. No matter what your shape is, from pear to apple to hourglass, it is important to know the risks you may face as certain types of fat can affect your heart.
Research suggests that fat located deep within the abdomen can be even more dangerous than the fat you see and pinch on the outside of your body. Ninety percent of body fat is considered subcutaneous (also known as ‘soft belly fat), meaning beneath the skin. The remaining 10 per cent will be visceral or intra-abdominal fat (also known as ‘hard belly fat’) – meaning the fat is hiding beneath the abdominal wall. Middle-aged women tend to gain more body fat versus men and typically around their midsection.
The Danger of Visceral Fat
Adipose tissue, aka body fat, secretes hormones and other molecules, which affects body tissue. Fat acts as an endocrine gland that releases fatty acids into the bloodstream and liver. In fact, researchers have found that visceral fat (hard belly fat) is linked to a variety of diseases including heart disease. Visceral fat produces more of the proteins called cytokines, triggering low-level inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease and other chronic conditions. It also produces a precursor to angiotensin, a protein that causes the blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise.
Visceral fat can lead to such things as:
- Cardiovascular disease;
- Heart attacks;
- Breast and colorectal cancer; and
According to Medical News Today, a woman whose waist measures 35” or more is likely to have excess visceral fat. This might increase her risk of developing some of the health problems linked to excess visceral fat. The same is true of a man whose waist measures 40” or more.
How to Measure Belly Fat
Visceral fat can be measured a few ways:
- The most precise methods are CT scans and full-body MRIs, but they cost a lot and are not readily available.
- The most common way to determine belly fat is to measure a person’s waist circumference. This will determine his/her body mass index (BMI). If the BMI is too high, the person likely has excess belly fat and should adjust diet and exercise to lower his/her BMI.
Read the Canadian Guidelines for Body Weight Classification in Adults, to determine healthy body weight. Please note, this system is intended for those aged 18 years and over, and not for women who are pregnant or lactating.
Stress and Belly Fat
Research has shown that stress can increase a person’s chance of developing excess body fat and consequently their chance for heart-related health issues. When the body is under stress it releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism and reduce inflammation. Too much cortisol can be unhealthy. Doctors recommend that people with high levels of visceral fat try to reduce their stress levels. Stress management can include such things as meditation, healthy eating, adequate sleep, drinking enough water and seeking counselling, if necessary.
How to Lose Belly Fat
Good old-fashioned diet and exercise can help reduce belly fat in both men and women. Those who exercise for at least 30 minutes a day are much healthier and decrease their chances of developing heart disease or other cardiovascular illnesses. Choosing a balanced diet that consists of the four food groups, according to the Canada Health Guide, will put many people back on track and help them lose the belly fat that causes heart health issues.
*If you are trying to lose weight or think that you may need to, please consult your doctor before starting any diets or strenuous activity.