Did you know that everyone has some belly fat, even people with flat abs?
That’s normal. But too much belly fat can affect your health in ways that other fat doesn’t.
Some of your fat is right under your skin. Other fat is deeper inside, around your heart, lungs, liver, and other organs.
It’s the deeper fat—called „visceral“ fat—that may be a bigger problem, even for thin people.
You need some visceral fat, as it provides cushioning around your organs.
However, having too much may increase the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer.
The fat doesn’t just sit there; it’s an active part of your body, producing „a lot of nasty substances,“ says Dr. Kristen Hairston, an assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Even thin people can have too much visceral fat. How much you have depends on your genes and your lifestyle, especially how active you are.
There are four keys to controlling belly fat: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.
1. Exercise: Intense workouts can reduce overall fat, including visceral fat.
Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. Walking counts, as long as it’s brisk enough to make you sweat and breathe harder than usual, with an increased heart rate.
For the same results in half the time, increase your pace and engage in vigorous activities like jogging or brisk walking for 20 minutes a day, four days a week.
According to Duke researcher Cris Slentz, PhD, even moderate activity—increasing heart rate for at least 30 minutes, three times a week—slows the accumulation of visceral fat.
„Raking leaves, walking, gardening, doing Zumba, playing soccer with your kids. It doesn’t have to be in the gym,“ says Hairston. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting a new fitness program if you are currently inactive.
2. Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat, but reducing your overall calorie intake can lead to a reduction in belly fat.
3. Sleep: Getting the right amount of sleep is also beneficial. People who slept 6-7 hours per night gained less visceral fat over a 5-year period than those who slept 5 or fewer hours or 8 or more hours per night.
4. Stress: Managing stress is important. Relaxing with friends and family, meditating, exercising to blow off steam, and seeking therapy can help you make better decisions for your health.