It is not just about the presence of fat in the body but also the location and the type of fat — these characteristics are said to influence the associated health risks.
Our body carries two kinds of fat. The first one, known as subcutaneous fat, is more visible as it is situated under the skin. The other kind, known as visceral fat, is hidden deeper in the body, i.e., beneath the abdominal wall and around the organs.
While subcutaneous fat is harder to lose, it is not considered to be as dangerous as the hidden kind. In fact, experts say it might even play a protective role to a certain degree.
Using the example of cellulite, Rodney Sinclair, a professor of dermatology at the University of Melbourne, explained the functions of this type of fat in an article for The Conversation. He noted how it can act as a shock absorber, regulate body temperature, and play an important role in the storage and release of energy through the day.
Visceral fat, on the other hand, has been linked to a number of health issues even in people who have a normal body mass index — heart disease, stroke, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of death, to name a few.
“Visceral fat can affect local organs or the entire body system. Systemically it can affect your heart and liver, as well as abdominal organs,” said Dr. Ian J. Neeland, a cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “If you just measure weight or BMI, you can underestimate the benefit to your health of losing weight.”
As noted before, the good news is that visceral fat is easier to eliminate — and all you need is exercise, according to new research led by Neeland. Specifically, you may look into high-intensity interval training, which is said to be “a time-efficient strategy” to decrease visceral fat mass.
It is important to follow physical activity guidelines, including both cardio exercises and strength training. Interventions have been encouraged strongly given the rising rates of obesity in the United States.
In a recent study, the elevated risk of obesity-related cancers among young people was also highlighted. According to Healthline, visceral fat has been linked to breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Studies have also found people with higher levels of visceral fat are likely to have weaker bones, further highlighting the importance of strength training. According to Dr. Miriam Bredella, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, this may be due to the reduced secretion of a bone-related growth hormone by the visceral fat cells.
Among other recommendations, prioritize adequate sleep and self-care activities to cope with stress. Make sure you get your daily recommended intake of essential nutrients while eliminating processed foods as much as possible.