The Difference Between Visceral Fat and Subcutaneous Fat
Visceral fat hangs out in and around your internal organs. It’s known to secrete a variety of proteins that trigger inflammation and affect your body’s hormone levels, and it can increase your risk for a variety of conditions (but more on this later). For this reason, some experts actually call it “active fat.” That’s in contrast to subcutaneous fat, which sits directly underneath your skin and mostly acts as an energy reserve without strongly influencing health, Dr. Eckert-Norton says.
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How Excess Belly Fat Can Increase the Risk of Diabetes Complications
So what are those conditions that belly fat influences? The first and most notable one for anyone with diabetes is insulin resistance, she says. One of the many factors at play is retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), a compound that visceral fat cells secrete that dulls the body’s sensitivity to the hormone insulin and encourages the development and progression of type 2 diabetes and its complications, according to research.
Meanwhile, additional research shows that excess belly fat can significantly increase the risk of cancer all on its own. For instance, in one study, visceral fat cells were found to produce high levels of a protein called fibroblast growth factor 2, or FGF2, which can trigger cancer formation. What’s more, it’s important to remember that visceral fat sits right next to (and even inside of) your organs, meaning that it can directly affect the health and function of your liver, heart, and lungs.
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Do You Have Too Much Belly Fat? A Simple Way to Find Out
The easiest way to gauge your belly fat levels and risk of abdominal-obesity-related conditions is to measure the circumference of your waist at the top of your hipbones. According to a statement by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, measurements greater than 35 inches in women and 40 in men denote abdominal obesity and chronic health risk.
Why Exercise Might Be More Important Than Cutting Calories for Losing Belly Fat
While everything from slashing stress to eating fewer processed foods has been shown to help combat belly fat, exercise is one of the best things you can do to reduce weight in this area and live healthier with diabetes, says Pat Salber, MD, an internist and the founder of The Doctor Weighs In, who’s based in Marin County, California.
She notes that in a meta-analysis, exercise was found to significantly lower people’s visceral fat levels, even if they didn’t cut calories. What’s more, when it comes to the best forms of exercise for improving insulin sensitivity, immunity, and overall health, research suggests that high-intensity strength training is where it’s at.
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What Research Says About the Benefits of High-Intensity Strength Training
For instance, according to one study, when researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health followed 10,500 men for 12 years, they found that, minute per minute, strength training targeted belly fat better than cardio did. And in another study, high-intensity resistance training was found to be significantly better at reducing visceral fat levels and preventing symptoms in people with metabolic syndrome compared with more endurance-based workouts. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, including hypertension, hyperglycemia, excess belly fat, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
In addition, organizations that specialize in diabetes care, such as the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology and the American Diabetes Association, find strength training so beneficial for diabetes management that they recommend it two to three times per week in their care guidelines.
Think you don’t have time to reap the potential benefits of exercise? Not true. “The beauty of high-intensity workouts is that the total amount of time to achieve fitness benefits is shorter than working out at lower intensities,” Dr. Salber says.
What People With Diabetes Should Know Before Giving It a Try
Don’t worry: High-intensity resistance exercise is all about moving your body in a way that feels challenging to you, and it doesn’t have to be high-impact. Remember, it’s important to keep your feet safe, and pounding the pavement or gym floor with high-impact exercise can increase your risk of cuts, blisters, and infection. No one wants that.
The best way to structure high-intensity resistance exercise depends on your current fitness level. After all, the fitter you are, the more weight you can move with each rep and the less you need to rest between sets. But as a general rule of thumb, you should be able to perform 15 to 20 reps per set with proper form, according to a research article. Rest for 30 seconds or less between sets.
And, as with any type of exercise, it’s important to warm up before and cool down after your high-intensity resistance training. Spend 5 to 10 minutes walking, jogging, or performing gentle bodyweight exercises. Save any stretching for after your training session.
Ideally, you’d strength train at least three times per week on nonconsecutive days. That will give your body the rest time it needs to spring back from each workout stronger and healthier than before.
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The Best Diabetes-Friendly Exercises to Help You Lose Belly Fat Fast
Here are five high-intensity (but low-impact) resistance exercises that will help you reduce your belly fat for better diabetes management and health. As always, make sure to check your blood sugar levels before, during, and after your workouts. Sprinkle these exercises into your regular workouts or perform them all together, making sure to rest for two to three minutes between each exercise for a real challenge.