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Reasons Most People Gain "Too Much" Abdominal Fat

Here’s why your belly fat is out of control.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Abdominal fat (also known as belly fat or visceral fat) is a particularly dangerous type of fat stored around vital organs such as the intestines and liver. "We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic," says Carol A. Shively, Ph.D. "Much of the excess fat in many people who are overweight is located in the abdomen, and that fat behaves differently than fat in other locations. If there's too much, it can have far more harmful effects on health than fat located in other areas." Here are five reasons people gain too much abdominal fat. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Bad Sleep

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Belly fat and sleep have an interesting relationship—poor sleep encourages the growth of visceral fat, but by losing weight, sleep quality improves, making it easier to keep the belly weight off. "We found that improvement in sleep quality was significantly associated with overall weight loss, especially belly fat," says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. The CDC recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night, so make it a priority for the sake of your health.

RELATED: Never Do This to Lose Visceral Fat, Say Experts

2

Stress

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We hate to be the bearer of stressful news but, stress and belly fat are unfortunately very closely linked. "Our longitudinal results suggest that clinically relevant depressive symptoms give rise to an increase in abdominal obesity, in particular visceral fat, which seems to be stronger than and independent of overall obesity," conclude the authors of a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. "This could also help explain why depression is often followed by diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Future research should further disentangle these mechanisms because this will yield important information for prevention or treatment of depression-related health consequences."

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3

Sedentary Lifestyle

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Did you know that exercise not only melts away visceral fat, but can keep it away over the long term? One study showed that just 80 minutes a week of exercise helped prevent belly fat from returning a full year after participants lost weight. "What we found was that those who continued exercising, despite modest weight regains, regained zero percent visceral fat a year after they lost the weight," says exercise physiologist Gary Hunter, Ph.D. "But those who stopped exercising, and those who weren't put on any exercise regimen at all, averaged about a 33 percent increase in visceral fat. Because other studies have reported that much longer training durations of 60 minutes a day are necessary to prevent weight regain, it's not too surprising that weight regain was not totally prevented in this study. It's encouraging, however, that this relatively small amount of exercise was sufficient to prevent visceral fat gain."

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4

Bad Diet

blueberries
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Fresh fruits and vegetables are incredibly good for your health—and your belly. One study showed that eating blueberries may help reduce abdominal fat. "The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables has been well-researched, but our findings in regard to blueberries shows the naturally occurring chemicals they contain, such as anthocyanins, show promise in mitigating these health conditions," says heart surgeon Steven Bolling, M.D.

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5

Smoking

Cigarette
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Smoking can lead to belly fat, even in people who are otherwise slender. "Smoking increases insulin resistance and is associated with central fat accumulation," according to a paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "As a result, smoking increases the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and these factors increase risk of cardiovascular disease. In the context of the worldwide obesity epidemic and a high prevalence of smoking, the greater risk of (central) obesity and insulin resistance among smokers is a matter of major concern."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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