Besides the ever-so-annoying belly fat, there's also a much more "invisible" — but just as harmful — kind of fat: one that sits around our internal organs. What causes this, and is it possible to get rid of it? A new study has some answers. For one thing, we need get off our tushies, and pronto! Sedentary time correlates directly with how much fat we build around our organs, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Obesity.
For another, we need to exercise. The research shows that sitting has an even more harmful effect for those who don't work out enough. You might be tempted to think, "Thank you, Captain Obvious," but actually, few people are aware of the importance of body fat distribution and the fact that the fat around our organs puts us at serious risk of chronic illness.
The new study was led by Dr. Joe Henson, research associate at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, who comments on the importance of the study, saying, "We know that spending long periods of time sedentary is unhealthy and a risk factor for chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease."
"Likewise, the amount of fat deposited around our internal organs may also predispose us to these diseases," Dr. Henson says, and he's not the only one. In a previous study we reported on, visceral fat inside the abdominal cavity was shown to raise the risk of heart disease.
Dr. Henson and his team used MRI to scan 124 participants who were likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The MRI scanners examined the fat around the participants' livers, as well as their "invisible," inner fat — which is also known as visceral fat — and total abdominal fat.
Using accelerometers that were placed around the participants' waists, the team also measured how much time these people spent sitting down over the course of 1 week.
"Our findings also show that reaching the government's target of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity may offer some protection against the harmful effects of prolonged sedentary time."
Study co-author Melanie Davies, a professor of diabetes medicine at the University of Leicester, also comments on the study, saying, "Lack of physical activity and being overweight are two risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes." Belly fat is more than just a superficial concern. It is also a significant risk factor for serious health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Not all fat is the same. Subcutaneous belly fat is the most visible type of fat, located just under the skin. Everyone has some belly fat, but large quantities of this subcutaneous fat can signal a weight problem.
Pills, surgeries, miracle cures, and herbal remedies will not safely remove belly fat. It is, however, possible to get rid of belly fat naturally with a healthy combination of diet and exercise.
Visceral fat—sometimes called "active" fat because of its active role in producing various hormones—is the harmful type of belly fat. A higher BMI can mean a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndromes, such as diabetes. For people who have active lifestyles and healthy body weights, subcutaneous fat—even if the belly protrudes a little—is not dangerous. Some research even suggests that surgery to remove subcutaneous fat will not improve health, and may even be a risk factor for more visceral fat—particularly if surgery is not accompanied by healthful lifestyle changes. Visceral fat, however, is very dangerous. It is less visible than subcutaneous fat because it lies within the abdominal wall. It surrounds organs, and releases hormones that can lead to diabetes, chronic inflammation, and other serious health problems.
Visceral fat is not visible, but a slowly expanding waistline is a good indication of visceral fat. As visceral fat grows, so too does the belly.
Some people find that visceral fat makes the stomach feel hard, while subcutaneous fat tends to feel soft and squishy.
"However, the effects of prolonged sedentary time and whether physical activity can play a mediating role by reducing fat deposits on internal organs remain unclear," she says.
"This research," adds Prof. Davies, "starts to shed a light on any connections between the two by using MRI to measure the distribution of fat in an individual's body and analyzing that in relation to their activity levels."
She concludes, "The next step would be to examine the impact of regularly breaking up prolonged sedentary time upon internal fat levels."