Visceral fat, as opposed to subcutaneous fat – the type of fat you can pinch – poses grave health risks because it lies hidden under the surface. It’s proximity to vital organs such as the liver and intestines means that a build-up can lead to potentially life-threatening health risks. Identifying and addressing the root cause of visceral fat is therefore essential to staving off the risks.
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Eating an unhealthy diet and leading an inactive lifestyle are often to blame for visceral fat gain but research reveals another connection too – stress.
Stress stimulates the body’s adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone, and studies have shown that shown that excess cortisol can increase visceral fat storage.
Research indicates that women who already have large waists in proportion to their hips, which is a marker of visceral fat, tend to produce more cortisol when stressed.
Furthermore, stress can create a negative cycle of overeating, which in turn can encourage visceral fat gain.
In addition, stress can cause sleep loss – another factor shown to lead to visceral fat.
Several studies have shown that a lack of sleep may increase your risk of visceral fat gain.
This claim is bolstered by evidence showing that increasing sleep may help to reduce the harmful belly fat.
A six-year study including 293 people found that increasing sleep from six hours or less to seven to eight hours reduced visceral fat gain by roughly 26 percent.
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How to ease stress
According to the NHS, exercise, in addition to directly reducing visceral fat, exercise can help to alleviate symptoms associated with stress, ordering your thoughts and you helping to deal with stress-inducing challenges.
Having a robust support network of friends and family can also act as a buffer against rising stress levels, according to Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster.
“If you don’t connect with people, you won’t have support to turn to when you need help,” said Professor Cooper.
As Professor Cooper explains, the activities you do with friends helps you to relax – you often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever.
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Setting yourself new challenges and goals such as learning a new language or engaging in a new sporting hobby can also help to lower stress levels, said Professor Cooper.
He said: “By continuing to learn, you become more emotionally resilient as a person.
“It arms you with knowledge and makes you want to do things rather than be passive, such as watching TV all the time.”
It is also important to cut back on unhealthy habits that provide immediate relief but long-term risks such as drinking too much alcohol, or caffeine, or smoking or take illegal drugs, advises Bupa.
Some people find that meditative approaches can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Meditation — this can help you learn to reduce anxious thoughts and become calmer
- Yoga or tai chi — these help you control your breathing and relax your mind
You may also find talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), an effective coping mechanism for stress.
As the NHS explained: “Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.”
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