VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Scientists have recently discovered an important health fact: all fat is not created equal. It all comes down to location, location, location. The most dangerous place for fat is around your middle.
Did you know we carry two kinds of fat? Surprisingly, that jiggley blubber you see in bathing suit pictures is the safer kind. It's known as subcutaneous fat.
The really dangerous fat hides deep inside the mid-section, pressing up against vital organs like the heart, liver, and lungs. That fat is called visceral fat, also known as belly fat.
Belly Fat No Laughing Matter
Dr. David C. Lieb, assistant professor of medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, said visceral fat, or belly fat, should be taken very seriously.
"As you become obese and gain weight, as you get older, you start to gain visceral fat," he explained.
Dr. Lieb participated in a study at Eastern Virginia Medical School comparing visceral fat to subcutaneous fat. He said the results were clear: visceral is worse.
"It's the visceral fat that's really associated with inflammation, increased risk for heart disease, increased risk for diabetes and other things like high blood pressure and high cholesterol," he explained.
"So you don't want to have a whole lot of subcutaneous fat either, but in general, the subcutaneous fat is the less inflammatory, the more healthy, of the two depots, the two types of fat," he said.
Power to Lose It
This so-called belly fat can lead to heart attacks, cancer, strokes, and even dementia.
Even though we can't see whether we have too much fat deep in our belly, it can be detected with MRIs and CT scans.
There is also an at-home test to check for it. Simply get a tape measure and measure around the circumference of your waist. Women hit the danger zone at 35 inches and men at 40 inches.
If you are at that point or above, don't despair. The good news is you have the power to change it.
Jamie Dockiewcz, a personal trainer at Inlet Fitness in Virginia Beach, Va., knows all about getting rid of belly fat.
"The bottom line is, you've got to put the time in," she began.
1. Healthy Diet
Dockiewcz recommends a four-pronged approach, beginning with a healthy diet.
"You really want to stay away from refined and processed foods, things that are found in boxes and packages, certainly sugary foods," she said.
2. Turn on the Burn
Then turn on the burn! Do something that gets you breathing hard.
"One of the best ways to get rid of that body fat is to simply get moving, your aerobic exercise, in which you are getting that heart rate up, working into that sweat," Dockiewcz said.
3. Build Muscle
She then advises her clients to lift weights to speed up their metabolism.
"The more muscle you have, the more calories you actually burn, even at rest," she explained.
4. Bedtime Rest
Finally, don't skimp on your sleep! Making sure to get your rest is crucial to weight loss success because it keeps those nasty stress hormones at bay.
"Those cortizol levels get high when you're not getting enough sleep, and that also contributes to your belly fat as well," Dockiewcz said.
Health and Cost Savings
Betty Brothers follows the four-point program to the letter and enjoys spectacular health.
"I eat mostly chicken and fish; I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, no desserts," she said. "I run five times a week, which averages 52 miles a week, and I work out at the gym three days a week."
Brothers is a great-grandmother and is in far better shape than most people her age.
"I see it every day. Even some of my classmates are so obese," she lamented. "They have all kinds of health issues and are on all kinds of medication, and it's just so sad."
One of the greatest perks of being in such good health is the cost savings. Brothers said she spends practically nothing on health care, practically no money and no time.
She only goes to the doctor for her regular check-ups and the only pill she takes is multi-vitamin. She said she wishes more people would do the same.
"Just think how much money the insurance companies would save, and the individuals, if they would just try to take care of themselves some more," Brothers said.
Surgery If Necessary
If the natural approach isn't enough to get rid of belly fat, some doctors recommend bariatric surgery. Dr. Lieb described the surgery in layman's terms.
"You take the intestine, and you alter the anatomy of the intestine and the stomach. So people may not absorb as many calories as they were before, and they tend to lose weight," he explained.
So cut that belly fat down to size. It's an investment that could add years to your life. Just ask Betty Brothers.
"I just try to eat healthy and take care of myself because I want to be around to see this great-grandchild grown!" she laughed, with a twinkle in her eye.
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*Originally published Sept. 14, 2012.