You're not alone if you've been trying to lose belly fat only to fail repeatedly. Unfortunately, abdominal fat is easy to gain and hard to lose, especially when you’re older. Carrying excess belly fat is also dangerous to your health.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about belly fat, including some easy ways to lose it.
Why Is It Important To Lose Belly Fat?
Too much weight gain is never pleasant or healthy, but the fat in your abdominal region can be dangerous. Science suggests that abdominal fat cells -- particularly visceral fat cells -- are "biologically active", meaning they secrete hormones and other substances that affect health.
In the past few years, researchers have discovered that the fat cell is an endocrine organ that secretes hormones and other substances that positively or negatively affect health. However, the substances secreted by visceral fat have been shown to have a potentially harmful effect on surrounding tissues and your health. (1)
What Are Two Types of Body Fat?
There are two types of body fat: subcutaneous and visceral.
Subcutaneous fat is located just beneath the skin and distributed throughout the body. Around 90% of stored fat is subcutaneous.
Subcutaneous body fat is not as harmful as the visceral kind. However, storing too much of it can increase your risk of various health problems, including:
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Fatty liver disease
Certain types of cancer
In addition, carrying a large amount of subcutaneous fat is usually a sign that you also have a large amount of visceral fat.
Visceral fat is located deep within your abdominal cavity under the abdominal muscles. It surrounds several essential organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys, impairing bodily functions.
This type of belly fat secretes hormones, chemicals, and inflammatory substances that can cause numerous health issues and diseases.
Health Risk of Visceral Fat
Excessive visceral fat is associated with numerous conditions, including:
Type 2 diabetes
Abnormal cholesterol levels
High blood pressure
Fatty liver disease
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Why Is It So Hard To Lose Belly Fat?
Unfortunately, visceral belly fat is the most challenging to lose -- for a few reasons.
Let's face it, living in this modern society is stressful. We've got work, family, and financial pressures. As a result, most people feel like they're constantly pulled in a hundred different directions. Though you may feel like you're ultimately the victor, that you're being productive, chronic stress is harmful to your health and contributes to the visceral fat you're carrying with you.
Numerous research studies suggest that chronic stress increases the risk of belly fat, especially when combined with a high sugar/fat diet. (2) This effect is likely due to increased cortisol, the primary stress hormone, poured into your bloodstream.
Excess cortisol levels are associated with visceral fat accumulation. (3) Too much cortisol also triggers cravings for sweets and unhealthy fats -- and indulging in these foods while stressed gives you a significant risk of gaining dangerous belly fat. (4)
So, as long as you remain chronically stressed, it can be difficult or impossible to shed that belly fat.
Lack of Sleep
A large percentage of Americans also suffer from sleep deprivation. After all, trying to accomplish everything in our busy lives often means sacrificing sleep. But like chronic stress, a lack of sleep is not only harmful to health but also promotes belly fat storage.
Multiple clinical studies show an association between sleep duration and visceral fat accumulation; short sleep duration is associated with increased abdominal fat in adults, with longer sleep duration associated with a decrease in belly fat. (5, 6, 7)
Sleep deprivation affects visceral fat for the same reason chronic stress does -- excess cortisol secretion. For example, a few studies showed that sleep deprivation or sleep loss resulted in a significant elevation of cortisol levels (8), and we know how cortisol affects visceral fat storage.
So, to lose weight in the belly, you may have to start getting more sleep, which is not easy for many of us.
Consuming Liquid Sugar
Sugary drinks are trendy today. But unfortunately, they can lead you to store fat in your abdominal area.
Several research studies show a direct correlation between "greater sweetened beverage consumption and increased visceral fat." (9)
For example, data from 1,000 participants found that daily sweetened-beverage drinkers gained significantly more visceral belly fat than non-drinkers or occasional drinkers.
Though researchers aren't sure exactly why sugary drinks promote visceral fat storage specifically, they suspect it has something to do with sugar's impact on insulin resistance. This condition worsens when sweetened beverages are consumed every day. (10)
So, if you want to lose belly fat, you should significantly reduce your intake of sugary beverages. Unfortunately, these drinks are so popular and addictive that it can be challenging to say goodbye to them.
Almost everything is automated in our modern society. But unfortunately, while automation is a time-saver and convenient, it reduces physical activity for many people. Most Americans do not get enough physical activity for various reasons.
Consider this passage from an article titled,Americans Sit More Than Anytime In History And It's Literally Killing Us, published online in Forbes magazine:
"The average American adult sits more than at any other time in history. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950. And Johns Hoplins contents that, 'Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960.'" (11)
Unfortunately, living a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous for your health. According to an overview of the research article published in the Korean Journal of Family Medicine:
"Sedentary behaviors have wide-ranging adverse impacts on the human body, including increased all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer risk, and risks of metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and dyslipidemia; musculoskeletal disorders such as arthralgia and osteoporosis; depression; and, cognitive impairment." (12)
One reason leading a sedentary lifestyle negatively impacts health is that it promotes dangerous visceral belly fat storage. (13)
The prevalence of sedentary jobs makes it more challenging to get enough physical activity to lose that dangerous belly fat, but it's not impossible.
Most women in menopause and perimenopause notice an increase in belly fat. One reason for this effect is a reduction in estradiol, a form of estrogen. Estradiol typically helps regulate metabolism and body weight, so weight gain often results when levels drop.
In addition, decreasing estrogen levels causes a change in the distribution of body fat. So, the excess fat that used to be distributed evenly throughout your body now primarily ends up in your abdominal regions.
This doesn't mean you will carry excess belly fat once you hit menopause. Instead, you'll need to make lifestyle changes to compensate for this issue.
Last but not least, genetics can help determine fat storage location because it influences body type. For example, if you have an apple-shaped body where your extra weight resides in your belly, you're at a higher risk of gaining belly fat.
Tips For Reducing Belly Fat
Here are a few tips for reducing belly fat which will, in turn, help get rid of the more dangerous visceral kind.
Learn to Manage Stress
You'll need to find ways to de-stress daily if you want to reduce or eliminate the accumulation of harmful visceral belly fat. Here are some de-stressing suggestions to get you started, but really, any activity that you find relaxing or refreshing works to relieve stress.
Go for regular leisurely walks
Practice deep breathing exercises
Play with your dog or cat
Go out to dinner or a movie with friends
Binge-watch comedies on Netflix
Do aerobic exercises
Take up a hobby
Help someone out. (Studies show that helping others lowers our stress levels.)
Get Adequate Sleep
When preventing or reducing belly fat, the length and quality of your sleep are essential factors.
As a general guideline, adults should get a minimum of 7 hours of quality sleep each night. ("Quality means sleeping and not waking up until it’s time. ") However, if you're sleep-deprived, you'll need more than 7 hours. (14)
Here are a few tips to help you get a better quality and quantity of sleep.
Go to bed at the same time each night, and arise at the same time each more. A sleep schedule trains your body to get tired close to your bedtime.
Avoid drinking liquids a few hours before bedtime. Waking up for bathroom runs several times a night is no way to get quality sleep.
Relax with meditation or deep breathing exercises an hour before going to bed.
Put away your devices. The light from your computer, smartphone, tablet, and other devices disrupts your brain's production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Try not to eat a large meal close to bedtime. The digestive process may disrupt sleep.
Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Any light can negatively affect melatonin production, so if street lights shine through your window at night, you may need to block it with black drapes or wear a sleep mask.
Avoid caffeine at least four hours before bedtime. This stimulating compound can keep you from getting a night of restful sleep.
Limit Sugary Drink Consumption
Reducing sugary beverages can be difficult, especially if they've become your go-to thirst quencher. Making it even trickier, artificial sweeteners have been found to promote abdominal fat, so replacing sweetened drinks with artificially sweetened ones, unfortunately, won't work. (15)
But there are a few healthier options you can try.
Squeeze a little lemon juice into a glass of water.
Make your own fizzy "soft drinks". Simply chop a few fresh fruit slices and stir them into a glass of carbonated water.
Drink herbal tea. Many herbal tea blends have a naturally sweet taste.
Make green smoothies. Blend spinach, kale, or other leafy greens with fresh fruit and water. Be sure to limit the fruit to low-sugar varieties --- primarily berries and citrus fruits-- and use only a tiny amount as the sugar in fruit (fructose) can cause health problems and promote belly fat if eaten in excess. Research suggests that the body turns fructose into fat more quickly than glucose. (16) Most sugars contain more than one type. For instance, table sugar is a blend of glucose and fructose. However, the fructose portion is turned into fat more quickly.
Enjoy a Healthy Diet
To keep fat from accumulating in your tummy area, you must also try to eat healthier foods. Here are a few tips for improving your diet.
Say NO to processed foods.
(This includes fast foods from the local eatery and most packaged, ready-to-eat foods from convenience stores -- unless it's fresh fruit, salads, raw nuts, etc.)
Heavily processed foods are made in a lab and filled with toxic chemicals, salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Unfortunately, your body doesn't recognize these "food-like" products as food, so it stores many calories in your stomach.
You'll find all the heavily processed foods on shelves in the middle of the store.
Eat more whole foods.
Try to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible.
These unprocessed or minimally processed foods include fresh or frozen fruits, fresh or frozen vegetables, beef, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc. Ensure the frozen fruits, vegetables, and yogurt contain no added sugar. (One 6-ounce container of fruit yogurt has around 26 grams of sugar or a little more than two tablespoons!)
You'll find most of the whole, unprocessed foods on the perimeter of the supermarket.
Cut back on refined carbs.
Refined carbs like white flour, white sugar, and white rice are terrible for your health and belly fat. That's because they are digested quickly, causing a spike in blood glucose levels that trigger a significant release of insulin, a hormone responsible for fat storage.
Unfortunately, that fat often ends up in the belly area.
Instead of refined carbs, try to fill up on nonstarchy vegetables. Though whole grains are popular replacements for refined ones, they can still cause a significant spike in blood glucose levels.
Get more physical activity.
There are a few ways to increase physical activity, lose weight, and reduce belly fat. Here are just a few suggestions.
Do high-intensity interval training exercises.
Multiple clinical research studies suggest that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is great for increasing metabolism and burning fat, particularly visceral fat. (17)
HIIT involves repeated intense bursts of exercise interspersed with low- or no-intensity "recovery" periods. Studies show that HIIT burns significantly more calories and dangerous visceral belly fat than low-intensity exercise performed at a steady speed. (18)
Studies also show that metabolism remains elevated hours after a HIIT workout. (19)
And one of the best things about HIIT is that you can achieve metabolism-boosting weight loss results in just 15 to 20 minutes, three days a week.
Due to the intensity, you should not perform HIIT workouts every day. Instead, experts recommend giving your body one day of rest. However, you can still do low-intensity exercises and weight training on your "off days."
Practice strength training
Building lean muscle mass is also an excellent way to boost your metabolism, reduce waist size, and burn belly fat.
In a study with 100 participants, researchers found that resistance training, aka strength training, is effective at burning visceral fat. (20)
Start slowly when adding strength training, and practice it at least three times weekly for best fat-burning results.
Increase physical activity in general
There are many easy ways to fit extra physical activity into your day:
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Park as far away from your destination -- workplace, school, store, etc. -- as possible so that you have a farther walk.
Get a standing desk (or standing desk converter) for work and home -- and use it frequently.
Replace your desk chair with a stability ball
Ride a bicycle to work or while running run errands
Take a walk during your lunch break.
Pace while you're on the phone.
Do mini-workouts at your desk throughout the day.
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