Visceral fat, or abdominal fat, is a type of body fat that exists in the abdomen and surrounds the internal organs. Everyone has some, especially those who are sedentary, chronically stressed, or maintain unhealthy diets. A different type of fat — subcutaneous fat — which builds up under the skin, has less of a negative impact on health and is easier to lose than visceral fat. In fact, excessive deposits of visceral fat are associated with many serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, types 2 diabetes, and increased blood pressure. Though it is possible to lose, it requires a larger commitment than spot exercises, like sit ups or crunches; a combination of cardiovascular activity and a lean diet is typically required.
Causes of Development
People gain abdominal fat for a variety of reasons, including eating lots of high fat or high sugar foods, and maintaining an inactive lifestyle. Not exercising for long periods of time often leads to a cumulative effect in which people gain more abdominal fat quicker over time, but a little exercise can greatly inhibit its development. Lifestyle factors, like not getting enough sleep or being stressed also increase the chances of developing this type of fat. Some studies show that people who routinely experience discrimination or harassment are prone to develop deposits of this fat.
Some causes are outside of people's control — aging is a major factor in gaining this type of fat, as people tend to lose muscle mass as they age, leaving them with a higher percentage of body fat in general. This also changes the way the body burns calories, making it easier to gain abdominal fat. Hormonal changes also play a large role, particularly in menopausal women. Some people are also genetically pre-disposed to gaining it, even if they don't have a lot of subcutaneous fat. In fact, a person may be within a healthy weight range, but still have too much fat around the internal organs.
Effects on Health
Visceral fat is associated with a number of negative effects on health, including increased blood pressure; dementia; cardiovascular disease; hormonal imbalances; and insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. The deposits of fat actually act similarly to an organ, and excrete substances that affect the surrounding organs. It's thought that abdominal fat may be particularly risky because it's near the main vein that carries blood into the liver from around the intestines. Some of the substances excreted by the fat, particularly loose fat cells, can get taken into the liver and then influence the levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood. Abdominal fat is also closely associated with increased LDL and decreased HDL cholesterol levels, as well as breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Losing Visceral Fat
People can often reduce deposits of visceral fat by a combination of aerobic exercise and changes in diet. Researchers recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity like brisk walking or jogging at least four times a week. Stomach exercises, like sit-ups, build muscle in the area, but won't reduce this kind of fat. Additionally, resistance training, like using exercise machines, can help with subcutaneous fat, but not abdominal fat. Doing any type of aerobic exercise can have a significant impact on visceral fat, which may last for up to a year after any weight loss occurs.
In terms of diet, a meal plan that's heavy on fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods like whole grains, and lean meats can help with losing visceral fat. It's also best to avoid sugary drinks and products that are heavy in saturated fat, like butter or fatty cheeses, and use natural cooking oils that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Appropriate portion sizing is also important. As individual diet requirements vary, it's best to consult a doctor or nutritionist when trying to lose abdominal fat.
Lifestyle changes can also help. As smoking and excessive drinking can lead to increased visceral fat, it's best to moderate or break these habits. Also, getting enough sleep is very important for losing fat. Some studies show that meditating or praying can help with this type of weight loss, as they can lower a person's stress levels.