Visceral fat lies in the abdominal cavity under the abdominal muscle. Unlike subcutaneous fat that lies just under the skin and is noticeable, visceral fat surrounds vital organs. The more visceral fat a person has, the greater their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Losing the harmful fat is therefore imperative but how can people stop it returning?
A study conducted by exercise physiologists in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Human Studies found that as little as 80 minutes a week of aerobic or resistance training helps not only to prevent weight gain, but also to inhibit a regain of harmful visceral fat one year after weight loss.
In the study, UAB exercise physiologist Gary Hunter, Ph.D., and his team randomly assigned 45 European-American and 52 African-American women to three groups: aerobic training, resistance training or no exercise.
All of the participants were placed on an 800 calorie-a-day diet and lost an average 24 pounds.
Researchers then measured total fat, abdominal subcutaneous fat and visceral fat for each participant.
Afterward, participants in the two exercise groups were asked to continue exercising 40 minutes twice a week for one year.
After a year, the study’s participants were divided into five groups: those who maintained aerobic exercise training, those who stopped aerobic training, those who maintained their resistance training, those who stopped resistance training and those who were never placed on an exercise regimen.
“What we found was that those who continued exercising, despite modest weight regains, regained zero percent visceral fat a year after they lost the weight,” Hunter said.
He added: “But those who stopped exercising, and those who weren’t put on any exercise regimen at all, averaged about a 33 per cent increase in visceral fat.
“Because other studies have reported that much longer training durations of 60 minutes a day are necessary to prevent weight regain, it’s not too surprising that weight regain was not totally prevented in this study,” Hunter said. “It’s encouraging, however, that this relatively small amount of exercise was sufficient to prevent visceral fat gain.”
The study also found that exercise was equally effective for both races.
According to Harvard Health, a tape measure is a simple yet effective way to keep tabs on visceral fat.
The health outlines how to measure visceral fat:
- Measure the waistline at the level of the navel – not at the narrowest part of the torso — and always measure in the same place.
- Don’t suck in the gut or pull the tape tight enough to compress the area
- Rather than focus on a single reading or absolute cut-off, keep an eye on whether the waist is growing – that should give a person a good idea of whether they are gaining unhealthy visceral fat.
- It is also important to get a good night’s sleep.
A five-year study found that adults under age 40 who slept five hours or less a night accumulated significantly more visceral fat.
But too much isn’t good, either — young adults who slept more than eight hours also added visceral fat. (This relationship wasn’t found in people over age 40.)
People should also play close attention to their diet to stop visceral fat from creeping up.
“Pay attention to portion size, and emphasise complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and lean protein over simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks,” advised Harvard Health.
It added: “Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with polyunsaturated fats can also help.”