Not all fat is created equal. If you’ve a gained a few extra pounds, you should know that where you carry that weight could put you at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Where to watch? Your waist.
If you can pinch a good handful at your waist, you are holding subcutaneous fat—the layer of fat that lies between the abdominal muscle wall and your skin. But behind your abdominal cavity could lie another, more dangerous layer of fat: visceral fat. Visceral (abdominal) fat can surround your internal organs and has been linked to Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer, according to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
A spreading waistline can affect anyone, but is especially common for women as they approach middle age. Decreasing estrogen levels appear to invite waist-level fat storage, according to the Mayo Clinic. So how can you tell if your fat is something to worry about? First calculate your body mass index (BMI) using your height and weight. Then measure your waist.
How to Measure Your Waist
- Find your navel (belly button)
- Use a soft-cloth tape measure (a string or ribbon that you mark will also work, just use a standard tape measure to measure it on the floor afterward).
- Breathe normally and do not pull the tape so tight that it depresses the skin.
For women with a BMI between 25–34.9, a waist circumference over 35 inches is considered high risk. But some studies showed increased risk at any size greater than 35 inches, even at a normal BMI range (18.5–24.9), according to the Harvard article.
Fat used to be considered passive cells of stored energy waiting to be used, but the new thinking is that fat cells are biologically active—releasing hormones and immune system chemicals that can affect our metabolism and overall health.
Visceral fat is directly related to higher cholesterol levels because it can release free fatty acids that travel to the liver via the portal vein in the intestinal area. This could affect production of blood lipids, which in turn affect cholesterol levels and insulin resistance. Insulin is a pancreatic hormone that carries glucose to the body’s cells. Insulin resistance means your body isn’t responding to normal levels of glucose, causing them to rise, and putting you at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
How to Reduce Visceral Fat
Exercise. Regular moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day will help reduce fat, including visceral fat hidden inside your abdomen. Sit-ups, planks, and abdominal crunches will tone your crucial abdominal core muscles, but you’ll still need regular exercise every day to get rid of the fat inside.
- Walk. Start walking every day. Get a pedometer, and see how you can add more steps to your regular day.
- Cut out 100 calories a day. That’s just one glass of wine or soda, one cookie, or one slice of bread. Pay attention to portion sizes and empty snacking.
- Start weight lifting. Invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer to learn how to safely lift weights. Regular weight lifting (at least three sessions a week) has been shown to increase fat burn and raise metabolism.
- Try interval training. Interval training is just switching up the intensity of your activity. If you’re out walking, jog for two minutes, then walk for two minutes; on a bike or swimming, try 30-second bursts of all-out speed followed by two minutes of regular pace. Many treadmills and elliptical machines have set programs for interval training.
Measure your waist once a month to see your progress. And take heart that as your waistline reduces, so does your risk of developing many preventable diseases.
Not to be construed as medical advice. Always check with your healthcare professional before beginning a new exercise or diet regime.