Belly fat not only keeps your pants from buttoning comfortably, it can also put you at risk for developing chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease and cancer. And for more bad news: women tend to accumulate more fat around their middle as they age, even if their weight stays the same. The good news? Making smart food choices, sticking to a fat-burning workout plan and forming healthy habits can help you whittle that waist.
Most body fat is the subcutaneous type. It’s the fat you can pinch. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is sneakier. It accumulates around your organs, below the layers of abdominal muscle. Some visceral fat is good: it helps to cushion and protect your organs. Too much intra-abdominal fat spells trouble. According to Harvard University’s Health Watch, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases 10 percent for every 2-inch increase in waist circumference.
Moderate exercise combined with a high-fiber diet may help to trim your tummy bulge. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that a 10-gram increase in soluble fiber resulted in a decrease in visceral fat. Participants in this study lost an average of 3.7 percent of visceral fat over five years for every 10 grams of soluble fiber added to their diet. You can get 10 grams of soluble fiber by eating two small apples or a half-cup of cooked, dry beans. Women tend to accumulate more visceral fat as they age. Eating more soluble fiber can help prevent your waistline from expanding in the long run.
Try to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity nearly every day. Even if you don’t lose weight, you’ll be cutting down on the amount of visceral fat in your abdomen. To burn some serious fat, try interval training. In a 2008 study published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,” women who engaged in 16 weeks of high-intensity interval training lost significantly more visceral fat than women who exercised at a lower intensity. An easy way to try interval training is to alternate periods of walking and jogging or jogging and sprinting within your workout. You can also use intervals for cycling and swimming.
Sleep deprivation not only makes you cranky, it also thickens your waistline. Getting less than five hours of sleep per night has been linked to increased visceral fat. But don’t overdo it with the snooze button, either. People under 40 who get more than eight hours of sleep per night may also gain visceral fat. Too much cortisol, a stress hormone, can lead to excess visceral fat, so taking steps to reduce stress can improve both your mood and your waistline. Smoking doesn’t do your midsection any favors, either. The more you light up, the more likely you’ll gain belly fat.
Alissa Pond Mentzer worked in biotech research and educational publishing before becoming a freelance writer in 2005. She has contributed to textbooks for The Mcgraw-Hill Companies and National Geographic School Division and writes science articles for various websites. Mentzer earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University in anthropology and biological sciences.