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Don't Do This or You Risk Visceral Fat, Studies Show

Common everyday habits can really pack it on.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Visceral fat, also known as abdominal fat, belly fat, or the "beer belly," is not a good look. But it's even more hazardous to your health. Because of where visceral fat sits—deep within the abdomen, underneath the muscle—it can release damaging toxins and hormones into the liver, pancreas, and intestine, preventing those vital organs from functioning properly and raising your risk of disease. As complicated as that may sound, visceral fat is not an exotic thing. Many of us are carrying too much visceral fat, and some common everyday habits can really pack it on. To avoid that, here's what studies say you should stop doing ASAP. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Eat Excessive Added Sugar

Woman pouring sugar into coffee

To reduce your risk of developing belly fat, reduce your consumption of added sugar. According to a 2020 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, eating too much sugar is associated with larger fat deposits around the heart and in the abdomen. "When we consume too much sugar, the excess is converted to fat and stored," the study's lead author wrote. "This fat tissue located around the heart and in the abdomen releases chemicals into the body which can be harmful to health." To cut down on added sugar, skip sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, juice, and sports drinks, reduce your consumption of refined grains and processed foods, and read Nutrition Facts labels to gauge amount of added sugar in the products you're buying.


Drink Too Much Alcohol


According to a recent study published in the journal Obesity Science & Practice, researchers found that people who reported higher consumption of beer and spirits had higher levels of visceral fat. (Conversely, people who drank wine instead had lower levels of visceral fat.) "Beer/spirits may partially contribute to the 'empty calorie' hypothesis related to adipogenesis [fat formation]," the researchers wrote, "while red wine may help protect against adipogenesis due to anti-inflammatory/eulipidemic effects." No matter what you drink, experts advise not exceeding two drinks a day for men, or one drink a day for women.

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Skip Exercise

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood

Regular exercise is crucial for burning belly fat if you have it, and being sedentary is a major risk factor for putting on fat around the middle. According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients, exercise reduces visceral fat even if you don't lose weight, and moderate physical activity combined with strength training seems to work best. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week—ideally spread throughout the week—including two sessions of strength training. 

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Let Stress Get Out of Hand

woman puts hands on head, stressed, busy at work

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. "A study of stressed out middle-aged Swedish men showed that those with the highest cortisol levels also had the biggest beer bellies," says the American Institute of Stress. "Since abdominal fat also tends to increase cortisol levels, this can lead to a vicious and unhealthy cycle, especially in women. There is little doubt that increased stress and/or cortisol can cause increased abdominal fat and weight gain."

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Skip Sleep

man stressed in bed that he can't sleep

Poor sleep makes the brain produce more cortisol, at the same time it compromises the production of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. This can make you hungrier during the day. 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 (that means seven to nine hours nightly). And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael