Most of us are well aware of the health risks that are associated with having too much body fat. But did you know that not all belly fat is bad for you? Belly fat that is found directly under the skin is called subcutaneous fat.
The belly fat that is harmful is the unseen fat around your organs, otherwise known as visceral fat. Having a high waist-to-hip ratio is usually a sign of having too much visceral fat. This type of fat is associated with a higher risk of developing certain health conditions.
1. Decreased Lung Function
A team of Finnish researchers found that a large waist circumference is related to decreased lung volume and function. In comparison with other healthy, non-smoking adults who did not have excess abdominal fat, those who carried more fat performed far more poorly on spirometry (breath measurement) tests.
Over time, this decreased lung function can lead to a narrowing of the airway and ultimately chronic lung diseases like asthma.
2. Arterial Degeneration
One study found a significant correlation between abdominal obesity and high incidence of atherosclerosis and arterial stiffness.
The researchers studied both individuals with abdominal obesity and general obesity, as well as healthy individuals, and discovered that for every 0.1 increase in the waist to height ratio, arterial issues worsened.
This tendency was particularly pronounced in people with excess abdominal fat. Arterial degeneration can lead to stroke and various forms of heart disease.
3. Poor Blood Sugar Regulation
Visceral fat produces a number of hormones that can wreak havoc on your metabolic system. These hormones can trigger changes to insulin receptors in your body, meaning that insulin starts to become less effective in helping to regulate your blood sugar levels. This is, of course, one of the major causes of diabetes.
4. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
It turns out that what’s going on in your gut can have a big effect on your brain. One study found that a high waist-to-hip ratio, as well as the presence of abdominal visceral fat in general, is linked with low brain volume. Low brain volume is linked with general dementia and may also be a contributing factor in Alzheimer’s disease.
5. High Cholesterol
Visceral fat can be turned into free fatty acids by the body, which results in the production of LDL (also known as “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. In addition, the free fatty acids also reduce the body’s level of HDL (also known as “good”) cholesterol. Along with abdominal obesity’s relationship with arterial degeneration, the cholesterol-related effects of excess belly fat are a perfect storm for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
How to prevent visceral fat?
Where you tend to store your fat is largely dictated by your genes, but if you have excess abdominal fat, there are ways to minimize your risk.
According to the experts, exercise is the best way to get rid of that visceral fat, even more so than calorie restriction (although sticking to a healthy diet is always a good idea).
Aim for half an hour to an hour of exercise most days of the week, and with determination, you should be able to shrink your belly and your chances of developing any of these long-term health problems.
How to calculate the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)?
To calculate your WHR, all you have to do is divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. Measurements can be recorded in either centimeters (cm) or inches (in) without affecting the ratio.
For example, if a person’s waist circumference is 80 cm (31.5 in) and their hip circumference is 90 cm (35.5 in) then their WHR ratio would be 0.89 cm.
What is a healthy ratio?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), having a WHR of over 1.0 may increase the risk of developing conditions that relate to being overweight, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
A healthy WHR for women is 0.85 or less and 0.9 or less for men.