Visceral fat is a grave cause for concern because it lurks near important organs in the body, such as the liver and intestines. An accumulation of the harmful belly fat is linked to metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions that contribute to heart disease. Despite its stubborn nature, you can reduce belly fat by improving your lifestyle.
“But this study brings up some interesting questions about the way we live. We may need to start looking at other behaviours – besides daily food choices – that could be contributing to the obesity epidemic in younger age groups.”
So, what did the researchers find out?
In individuals under 40, the study showed a clear association between averaging five hours or less of sleep each night and large increases in visceral fat, or fat around the organs.
Of the study participants under 40, Hispanic men and black women were the largest groups to report getting such little sleep.
The study, published in the journal Sleep, also found getting eight or more hours of sleep was associated with greater visceral fat.
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“Both may be detrimental and, in general, people should aim for six to eight hours of sleep each night,” advised Hairston.
She acknowledged that the findings are a “starting point” for further investigations.
“We definitely know that a relationship exists between sleep and obesity. Now we need to know how this relationship can be modified.”
Hairston added that it will be important for future obesity research to consider sleep patterns and the effect they can have on visceral fat outcomes.
It adds: “So if you include a lean source of protein, such as skinless white chicken, in your meals you may find that you’re not as hungry, and so eat less.”
Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, mackerel, salmon, eggs, milk, red lentils, chickpeas, brown bread, nuts and soya.
Regular physical exercise can also reduce visceral fat and some forms of exercise are more optimal than others.
“The starting point for bringing weight under control, in general, and combating abdominal fat, in particular, is regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 30 minutes per day (and perhaps up to 60 minutes per day) to control weight and lose belly fat,” advises Harvard Health.