Did you know that even if your weight is normal, having a big belly is just as dangerous as smoking?
That’s the scary finding of a new study by the Mayo Clinic, which shows that normal-weight people with a large waist had nearly triple the risk of dying from cardiovascular causes, such as a heart attack or stroke.
The study, presented to the European Society of Cardiology, looked at the body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and death rates of close to 13,000 adults over the course of 14 years.
"We knew from previous research that central obesity is bad, but what is new in this research is that the distribution of the fat is very important even in people with a normal weight," reported study author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
"This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on body mass index. From a public health perspective, this is a significant finding."
The researchers reported that people with a normal BMI (body mass index) but a high waist-to-hip ratio had the highest rate of cardiovascular mortality, even after excluding people with histories of stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and other chronic diseases.
In fact, the risk of cardiovascular death was 2.75 times higher for those with high levels of belly fat and normal weight than that of people who had normal waist-to-hip ratios and were not overweight.
Surprisingly, those who were obese but did not have an excessive amount of belly fat only had a 1.07 percent greater risk, while people who were both obese and had a high waist-to-hip ratio had 2.34- fold increase in cardiovascular mortality.
Visceral fat—the kind that builds up around the abdominal organs--is metabolically different from fat elsewhere in the body. It’s more likely to trigger chronic inflammation, which has been shown to actually cause heart disease.
Abdominal fat “is associated with insulin resistance (IR) and other risk factors,” Dr. Karine Sahayakan from the Mayo Clinic stated in a press release. Not only is IR the root cause of type 2 diabetes, but it also increases risk for heart attack, stroke, and even dementia.
In addition, excessive belly fat also places you at a higher risk of high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and coronary artery disease, according to the CDC.
Women with a waist measurement about 35 inches and men with waists measuring over 40 inches may be at an increased risk for obesity-related diseases, according to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
As far as waist-to-hip ratio, WHO states that men with a waist-hip ratio of 90 or higher for men or 85 or higher for women also have a substantial increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other disorders.
To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. As I’ve reported previously, a new obesity measure called A Body Shape Index, has been shown to accurately predict lifespans by factoring both body mass index and waist circumference.
Although adding sit-ups into your workout seems like an obvious solution, they won’t necessarily have the effect you’re looking for. “Sit-ups help make your abdominal muscles stronger, but spot exercises alone won’t specifically reduce your belly fat,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Diet and exercise are the way to go, and high-intensity training such as sprinting has been shown to be especially effective. A new 12-week study published in the Journal of Obesity showed that sprinting for only an hour a week was more effective at reducing body fat than seven hours of jogging.
The men participating in the study lost 17 percent of their visceral fat and lost about 4.5 pounds of fat overall, while gaining 2.5 pounds of muscle in their legs and trunk.
“Other studies using aerobic exercise, such as continuous jogging, have found that the amount of exercise needed to produce a similar decrease in visceral fat was around seven hours per week for 14 weeks,” study leader Steve Boutcher told Medical Daily.
But while high-intensity exercise was more effective than aerobic activity, aerobic activity had better results than weight training, according to a study at Duke University Medical Center. That study looked at close to 200 overweight adults, and showed that aerobic exercise torched significantly more calories than resistance training alone.
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