It's been known for years that having a wider waistline ups the odds of a heart attack. But recent research has shown that holding on to excess fat in particular places can be especially dangerous for women.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, having an "apple"-shaped body is an 18% stronger predictor of a heart attack in women than BMI, compared with only a 6% stronger predictor for men.
This risk holds even if a woman isn't overweight, which shows that the big culprit here is visceral fat — a type of fat that lies deep inside the abdomen and wraps around important internal organs like the liver and the pancreas as well as the heart.
Visceral fat secretes hormones and a host of other chemicals linked to cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and stroke, explains Kari Pilolla, Ph.D., R.D.N., assistant professor of nutrition at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California.
Follow these tips to blast belly fat or prevent it from piling on in the first place and decrease your risk of having a heart attack:
1. Focus on fiber.
In a study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, people who ate more soluble fiber accumulated less visceral fat. Good sources of fiber include apples, peas, beans, bran, oatmeal, barley, nuts, and seeds.
2. Raise your heart rate.
Aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week, and to really torch fat, make some of it high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Pilolla suggests.
For a simple HIIT workout, try walking as fast as you can for 3 minutes (this is the intensity interval), then walk at a moderate pace for 3 minutes (this is your rest period). Repeat 4 more times.
3. Catch enough zzz's.
Research shows that fat cells in those who are sleep-deprived are less able to respond properly to insulin, which may lead to weight gain. Research by the American Thoracic Society found that young people who slept less than five hours a night were more likely to gain weight than those who slept six or seven.
4. Ease tension.
Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which encourages your body to store more fat, particularly around your belly. Regularly using relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga may help keep belly fat at bay.
This story originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Landcruisers.