If you have thin hips and a big belly — the famous muffin top — you’re probably more at risk for disease than someone with a big bum and a small waist.
While you can’t change your shape, you can shave off that belly fat by running and walking.
The dangerous fat is visceral fat, which lurks inside us, padding the spaces between our abdominal organs. It’s far more sinister than regular (subcutaneous) fat, which lies between the skin and the abdominal wall — and jiggles when we move.
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“Belly fat is more biologically active than skin fat, meaning it doesn’t just sit there — it produces hormones and other chemicals that affect metabolism by increasing blood fat levels, promoting diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Arya Sharma, a doctor in Edmonton and scientific director for the Canadian Obesity Network.
He points out that visceral fat can cause thickening in the arteries leading to the heart. And in his blog he mentions that visceral fat can also cause thickness in the arteries that lead to the brain.
Two studies — one from Korea and one from Ireland — found that those with visceral fat had thickened carotid arteries. This puts people at risk for heart attack and stroke.
A Harvard University newsletter also warns that visceral fat lies close to the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. Visceral fat can release substances that influence the production of “bad” cholesterol, another risk factor for heart disease.
Interestingly, it is possible to be obese and not have visceral fat, and vice versa.
Visceral fat isn’t easy to measure. Measuring BMI (body mass index) tells you whether you are normal, overweight or obese — a BMI more than 25 is considered overweight and more than 30 is considered obese. But it doesn’t indicate how your body stores fat and muscle.
Doctors nowadays also measure waist circumference, which reveals whether fat is stored around the belly. For women, a waist that measures more than 35 inches (88 cm) is considered quite risky. For men, 40 inches (102 cm) is bad. A third test -— waist-to-hip ratio — is also important. It calculates the difference between your waist circumference and your hips (you want a high number there). Pear-shaped people tend to have less visceral fat than apple-shaped people.
What can you do if your doctor says you have visceral fat? You guessed it! Exericse. A study at Duke University found those who walked or jogged regularly made a significant dent in their visceral fat.
“Any weight loss, especially if combined with exercise, will help reduce belly fat,” says Dr. Sharma.