Into the new year, many of us are making goals to lose weight. More specifically, visceral fat is not only dangerous, but it can trigger multiple health issues if not tackled in time. To learn more, HEALTH meets with Bryan Serrao, Personal Trainer at Body & Soul Health Club who provides the facts about this common problem.
What is visceral fat?
Visceral fat or belly fat, explains Serrao, is the fat within the abdominal cavity surrounding the internal organs. He elaborates, “Our bodies need some fat for its energy reserves, but our modern day lifestyles do not have the physical workload our bodies have been built to endure,” he says, and this in turn, leads to a surplus of fat especially around the tummy and thighs.
Why it matters
According to Serrao, scientific studies have shown that visceral fat is directly linked with heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It also raises the risk of stroke. He adds, “Researchers speculate that visceral fat creates an increase of certain proteins that inflame your body’s organs and tissues and ultimately narrow your blood vessels. In turn, this can trigger blood pressure to rise which can trigger other health issues.
How to measure it
A challenge about visceral fat is that there’s no way to ascertain how much visceral fat there is and where it’s concealed in the body without the use of highly specialized imaging tests. “The good news is these tests are rarely required and instead, there is a simple method to obtain an approximation,” says Serrao. “One is by the waist size; simply wrap a measuring tape around your waist over your belly button, ensuring you are not holding in your stomach.” In women, 35 inches or more is an indicator of visceral fat, while in men, it’s 40 inches. He warns that this method is quite rudimentary, especially if you’re a very large sized person. “And if you’re of Asian descent, the benchmark for visceral fat drops to 31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men.”
Causes for the increase in visceral fat with aging
In simple words, Serrao points out that a calorie surplus diet is what causes visceral fat. “When the body is not burning the calories that are consumed, it stores the excess energy in the form of fat,” he says. “As our body ages, the metabolism rate—the rate at which food is converted into energy—gets slower and slower.” Age also plays a major role as there are hormonal changes which regulate important hormones. Also, stress is one of the underlying causes of excessive visceral fat. Stress causes the body to release a hormone known as cortisol, which increases how much visceral fat a person’s body stores, he explains.
The challenge in shedding visceral fat
There are two main types of fat, brown and white, explains Serrao. “Brown is considered as the good fat and is found in the front and back of the neck and upper back,” he says, while white fat is most prevalent in the body and has a number of roles that include temperature regulation, energy storage, protection of organs, and to protect the neuromuscular system. “Visceral fat falls in this category,” he says, and visceral fat is the most stubborn type of body fat as it is one of the last energy stores. The body is therefore programmed to hold onto visceral fat for as long as possible. “It is this reason that shedding this fat requires dedication, motivation, and patience as it needs to be defeated, not just burned.”
Exercises for visceral fat
Cardio, he explains, remains a popular choice. “However, just like diet, exercise also needs to be balanced and therefore, strength training/resistance/weight training should never be compromised,” he concludes. H