Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is critical to reduce your risk for serious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Even a small weight loss (between 5-10% of your current weight) will help lower your risk of developing diseases associated with obesity.

In addition to body weight, the distribution of your body fat is an important risk factor for weight related diseases. Fat that accumulates in the hips/lower body (also known as the “pear shape”) is subcutaneous, while fat in the abdominal area (also known as the “apple shape”) is predominately visceral and directly linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and insulin resistance.

Check your tool box at home for a tape measure. Waist circumference, also called waist girth, may be used to assess abdominal fat mass. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out. Men who have a waist circumference of 40 inches or above and women whose waist measures at 35 inches or above are considered to be at increased risk for weight related conditions. You can also assess your weight and health risk online.

Once you know your numbers, you can set a goal. Fortunately, visceral fat responds well to exercise and diet, with benefits ranging from lower blood pressure and more favorable cholesterol levels, as well as improved self image. To decrease visceral fat consider the following lifestyle changes:

  • Build a healthy plate: Pay attention to portion size, and emphasize complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and lean protein over simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks.
  • Strength training. Weight-lifting and spot exercising, such as sit-ups and Pilates, can tighten abdominal and lower back muscles. Toning, along with cardiovascular work, will make your body more efficient at reducing body fat.
  • Aerobic Exercise. Sit-ups alone may not fix the problem area! Try to get at least 30 minutes a day of regular moderate-intensity physical activity to control weight. Any activity that brings your heart rate to 50-70% of your maximum heart rate, and keeps it there for at least twenty minutes, benefits the heart and burns fat.
  • Stay motivated: Each step and pound lighter is success! A modest amount of weight loss will reduce your visceral fat stores and other medical complications that you may have. Staying positive, using your support system, and rewarding yourself (in non-food ways), will help you stick with your healthy eating and exercise program.

Make lowering your risk for weight related disease a priority—improve your health and your quality of life. If you are already under a doctor’s care for a health condition, talk to your doctor about your specific dietary needs and ability to start an exercise routine.

Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard Health, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, LifeWork Strategies EAP and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.