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The Best Habits for Abdominal Fat, Say Doctors

Start before it's too late.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

There's a monster inside you, and it's working quietly to take over your organs—and eventually your overall health. As sci-fi as this sounds, it's pretty common: Abdominal fat. This fat (also known as visceral fat or belly fat) lingers around the midsection, where it can cause serious trouble, increasing your risk of cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses. These are the best habits for reducing abdominal fat, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs COVID is Hurting You—Even After a Negative Test.

1

Exercise Regularly

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"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," says Harvard Medical School. According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients, exercise reduces visceral fat even if you don't lose weight. 

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2

Reduce Stress

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In addition to getting active, chill out to reduce belly fat. Chronic feelings of stress cause the brain to produce more cortisol, the "stress hormone" that instructs the body to hold on to fat around the abdomen. That actually sets off a vicious cycle that can cause you to gain more belly fat. "Since abdominal fat also tends to increase cortisol levels, this can lead to a vicious and unhealthy cycle, especially in women," says the American Institute of Stress. "There is little doubt that increased stress and/or cortisol can cause increased abdominal fat and weight gain."

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3

Maintain a Healthy Weight

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If you're overweight or obese, you have a much higher chance of accumulating a dangerous amount of visceral fat than someone who is at a healthy weight. The easiest way to reduce abdominal fat is to lose weight. Dropping just 10% of your overall body weight can eliminate up to 30% of your body fat.

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4

Eat a Healthy Diet

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Diet is also important in reducing abdominal fat. Harvard's doctors recommend paying attention to portion size and eating a diet rich in complex carbs and lean protein, while limiting simple carbs like white bread, refined grains, and sugar-sweeteened drinks. 

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5

Get Enough Sleep

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When you don't get enough quality sleep, the brain pumps out more cortisol while losing control of leptin and ghrelin, the two hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. The potential result; More abdominal fat. Scientists at Wake Forest University found that dieters who slept five hours or less every night put on 2.5 times more belly fat than people who got adequate sleep—seven to nine hours nightly.

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6

How to Tell If You Have Too Much Visceral Fat 

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To gauge if you have excess abdominal fat, measure your waist at the belly button. Experts say you're at higher risk of health problems related to visceral fat if your waist is more than 35 inches if you're a woman, or more than 40 inches if you're a man. And to live your healthiest life, don't miss this life-saving advice I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael