A widening waistline isn’t just an aesthetic concern. Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is the fat that lies beneath the abdominal wall, nestled around organs like the liver, stomach and intestines. It’s different, and more dangerous, than the kind of fat you can pinch (subcutaneous fat). According to Harvard Medical School, high amounts of belly fat are associated with illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer. These are everyday habits that reduce belly fat. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
One of the biggest contributors to belly fat is a diet high in added sugar (especially sugar-sweetened drinks) and simple carbs (which rapidly turn to sugar in the body). Visceral fat literally lives for sugar. “Fructose, or sugar, causes fat cells to mature faster, specifically in the visceral fat,” says the Cleveland Clinic. “A diet filled with fructose-containing sodas or drinks not only increases your calorie intake, but it impacts how the belly fat develops.” Culling sugar-sweetened drinks and juices, refined grains, baked goods, and processed foods from your routine can help whittle your waistline.
Dieting alone isn’t enough to reduce belly fat, experts say; adding exercise is crucial. “Exercise seems to work off belly fat in particular because it reduces circulating levels of insulin—which would otherwise signal the body to hang on to fat—and causes the liver to use up fatty acids, especially those nearby visceral fat deposits,” says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D., director of clinical and research physiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. For burning belly fat, moderate physical activity combined with strength training seems to work best.
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The easiest way to reduce visceral fat is to lose weight, if you need to. “Weight loss alone can effectively reduce visceral fat,” says W. Scott Butsch, MD, an obesity medicine specialist with the Cleveland Clinic. “By losing 10% of your body weight, you may lose up to 30% of your body fat.” Choose a weight loss plan that works for you and is sustainable—and remember that in the battle against belly fat, it’s about steady progress, not perfection.
Chronic feelings of stress cause the brain to pump out cortisol, a stress hormone which prepares the body for battle. Among other things, cortisol tells the body to hold onto fat around the abdomen in case it’s needed. (The hormone hasn’t gotten the memo that we no longer live in cave-dwelling times.) Reducing stress can aid your efforts to melt belly fat. Getting regular exercise and practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness can help.
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Researchers at Wake Forest University University found that dieters who slept five hours or less every night put on 2.5 times more belly fat than people who got adequate sleep. Experts including the National Sleep Foundation say you should aim for seven to nine hours a night. Not only can it aid you in the battle of the bulge, consistent good-quality sleep may also reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.