The Best Way to Beat Belly Flab
The Facts on Fat
All fat is not created equal. Abdominal fat, particularly the visceral fat stored deep inside, is much more dangerous than the flab on your hips, butt, or thighs. The reason: Location, location, location. Think of it this way: Your liver and pancreas are like stately apartment buildings -- they're efficient, well-oiled machines that have been there forever. Belly fat is like the loud, disruptive neighbor who buys the building next door and turns it into an all-night dance club and lets the whole place go to seed. Before you know it, there goes the neighborhood.
But this toxic fat doesn't have to take up permanent residence next to these vital organs. Groundbreaking research shows that exercise may be the key to blasting it off your belly. Results of a 20-week study at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that women who exercised and dieted reduced abdominal fat-cell size by about 18 percent; women who only counted calories lost weight but didn't reduce fat-cell size. Generally, the greater the fat-cell size, the greater the amount of abdominal fat. The good news: When you start working out and watching what you eat, toxic abdominal fat may be the first fat you shed, says Donald Hensrud, MD, an associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo Clinic.
To fight flab effectively, it helps to understand exactly what you're targeting. Here's what lies beneath:
Subcutaneous fat is right under your skin. It's commonly found in your thighs, butt, and abdomen. "When our hunter-gatherer ancestors would eat all summer preparing for the winter famine, their bodies would store fat there before using it up," says Kylie Kavanagh, a researcher at Wake Forest University. But this fat isn't necessary -- or healthy -- today. It's also significantly more dangerous when it's in your abdomen, because it can adversely affect your internal organs.
Muscle is the next layer down. More muscle means you burn calories faster, which helps with weight loss. And since it's denser and more compact than fat, muscle gives you a strong, lean look. So build it up, baby!
Visceral or "toxic" fat: Found deep in your abdomen, this is the true troublemaker. Visceral fat has access to your portal circulation, the highway of blood vessels around your organs, and it likes to hop on. This can affect your liver's ability to manage cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease, says Pamela Peeke, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, author of Body for Life for Women and a FITNESS advisory board member. "Not only that, but visceral fat causes insulin -- the hormone responsible for storing fat -- to become less effective, making you more susceptible to diabetes," Dr. Peeke says. Studies have also linked excess visceral fat to an increased risk of breast cancer, although experts do not fully understand the connection.
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