Why losing visceral fat is so important for your health - here's how to do it and what to expect
The best way to lose visceral fat is to make sustainable lifestyle changes that include diet and exercise. Ariel Skelley / Getty Images
Visceral fat, also known as belly fat, is a type of fat that is stored deep in the body and surrounds vital abdominal organs such as the liver, stomach, and small intestine.
Excessive visceral fat can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
With the right diet and exercise plan, visceral fat can be reduced after just a few months.
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Researchers have found that too much visceral fat is linked to high blood pressure, sleep apnea, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
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But what is visceral fat and why is it so dangerous to your health? More importantly, how do you get rid of visceral fat if you carry too much?
This article explains how to determine if you have too much visceral fat, how to remove it, and why it is a good idea to put extra effort into doing so.
What is visceral fat?
Visceral fat is just one of four types of fat that you store on and in your body. What sets visceral fat apart from other types is mainly its location and how unhealthy it is to you:
Visceral fat: This type of fat covers your internal organs and is located in your abdominal cavity. Excess visceral fat can be dangerous and lead to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Subcutaneous fat: This fat sits just under the skin. This is why you may notice cellulite on your legs. It generally poses no health risk.
White fat: This is where the body stores energy that it does not need. For example, if you use more calories than your body burns, it turns into white fat.
Brown fat: Commonly found in babies rather than adults, brown fat is a form of adipose tissue that protects the body from the cold. Brown fat is considered healthy, and research suggests that it can help protect against obesity.
The dangers of visceral fat
The reason why excessive visceral fat can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes is because of how close it is to a major vein - the portal vein - that leads to your liver.
Excess fat produces fatty acids (or lipids) that prevent it from traveling down the portal vein to the liver, where they can cause insulin and cholesterol problems. This, in turn, can cause or worsen cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
In addition, belly fat is believed to manipulate some of the hormones, like leptin, that control our hunger. Overweight people have been found to have increased levels of leptin, making them feel hungry more often, which could lead to more weight gain in the long term.
How To Tell If You Have Too Much Visceral Fat
The visceral fat is under your muscles so you cannot see or feel it. To determine if you have too much visceral fat, you can either calculate your BMI or check your waist size.
It's important to note that BMI isn't always a clear indicator of how much excess body fat you're carrying. Hence, it is important to also consider your waist size and consult a doctor whether or not you have too much visceral fat.
According to Harvard Medical School, if you are a man with a waistline of over 40 inches or a woman with a waistline of over 35 inches or more, you are at high risk of excessive visceral fat.
It can be difficult to tell if you are losing visceral fat, as you are likely to lose subcutaneous fat as well. According to Michael Russo, MD, bariatric surgeon at MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center, it's best to keep an eye on your BMI and waist size to determine if you're losing visceral fat.
How to Lose Visceral Fat
The best way to tackle visceral fat is to make long-term and sustainable lifestyle changes that focus on improving your diet and adding exercise.
"Diet makes up about 80% of the equation. Exercise is also very important - you can raise your heart rate for 30 minutes each day," says Russo.
The type of exercise isn't as important as focusing on just increasing your heart rate and breaking a sweat. Strength training, cardio and other forms of exercise are sufficient. If you are having trouble exercising regularly, take long walks in your neighborhood first to prepare for more rigorous exercise.
As for diet, long-term lifestyle changes like adding more vegetables every day, monitoring sodium intake, and moderating the amount of processed foods and sugars you eat can help you lose and keep off visceral fat.
Outside of a diet, individuals can monitor total caloric intake, limit refined sugars, and increase the number of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables they consume.
With these changes, it is possible to lose visceral fat at a reasonable pace. However, how your body can lose fat depends on factors such as genetics.
In general, visceral fat has been found to drop faster with diet and exercise than other types of fat. According to Harvard Health, this is because it is "metabolized" more quickly into acids, which the body can then discard (either through peeing or sweating). Most doctors recommend that healthy weight loss comes down to around 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Weight loss is individualized. It depends on how much visceral fat you need to lose and how your body is losing fat. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is best to cut calories and exercise at least 30 minutes a day to lose visceral body fat. If you eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, you should see a difference within a few months.
Weight loss surgery for extreme cases
If someone doesn't lose visceral fat with lifestyle changes, surgery is another option.
"The most effective way to reduce visceral fat when someone is wearing a large amount is to have bariatric surgery or weight loss surgery that hormonally changes you to a more normal hormonal profile so that your body no longer wants to carry excess fat like turn down the thermostat, "says Russo.
Other surgical options that aren't quite as effective as bariatric surgery include balloon-based therapies, which can help limit the amount of food you eat by helping you fill up more quickly.
Insider to take away
Loss of visceral fat takes time and effort. A low-carb diet and moderate exercise will help you get rid of excess fat around your midsection.
If you actively work to lose visceral fat and lead a more active lifestyle, you will get long-term benefits. Everyone has some visceral fat, and some belly fat isn't necessarily a sign that you need to lose weight.
However, excess belly fat can have long-term adverse health effects. It's best to ask your doctor if your belly fat puts you at risk for heart disease or other health problems.
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How often should you use strength training to build muscle
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