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Why Belly Fat Isn't Just Unsightly - It can be Dangerous, Too

Did you know that a flat stomach can do more than make you look good in a swimsuit?

It's true!

In fact, a smaller waistline can mean the difference between a healthy life and a premature death. Discover the best exercises to getting a chiseled set of abs and reduce your waistline today.

Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is one of the most stubborn types of fat to lose. It's also the most dangerous type to carry.

For years, studies have linked an abundance of belly fat to an increased risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Excess visceral fat and the often-corresponding "apple" body type are strongly linked to metabolic syndrome, a condition that plagues more than 50 million Americans. This is why excessive abdominal fat can be deadly if left unchecked.

These elevated risk factors were found in men with a waist circumference of 40 inches or higher. Women with a waist measurement higher than 35 inches face similar risks.

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It's difficult to tell how much of a person's body fat is comprised of visceral fat, and how much is regular subcutaneous fat. The only way to be certain is to have a CT scan or an MRI.

A much cheaper and easier way to estimate your risk is to take a measurement of your waist. Place a tape measure around your waist while you stand up straight and relaxed.

Bring the tape measure even with the tops of your hips, and bring it around parallel to your navel. If your waist has an unhealthy circumference, it's time to make some changes.

Oddly, simply removing the visceral fat through liposuction does not relieve the associated risk factors for heart disease.

A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that even when a large quantity of visceral fat was removed from the subjects, their cholesterol and blood pressure stayed the same.

So how does one get rid of stubborn belly fat? It looks like a sensible diet and a daily session of moderate to high-intensity cardio exercise is the perfect combination to get rid of visceral fat and its associated risks.

Building lean muscle mass through weight training is another way to reduce your body fat percentage.

Yoga and other stress-busting activities can also help slim your waistline. When you experience stress, your body responds by producing the hormone cortisol.

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Cortisol actually signals your body to store more fat around the midsection. If you can reduce your cortisol levels, you might reduce your visceral fat - and your risk factors.

Why is belly fat so much more dangerous than fat in other areas? Sadly, scientists are still looking for that answer. In the meantime, there are two popular theories circulating about.

The first theory is that dense visceral fat crowds the internal organs, making them work harder, but less efficiently. This sounds reasonable when you consider that the liver and pancreas, organs that regulate fat metabolism and insulin production, are located in the abdomen.

The second theory suggests that visceral fat produces more inflammatory acids than regular fat tissue.

These acids attack and damage the organs, cause blood sugar levels to become unstable, and increase a person's resistance to insulin. The body responds by producing even more insulin, leading to a serious chemical imbalance.

Post-menopausal women and all individuals over the age of 50 need to be especially vigilant about their waistlines. It is believed that waning levels of sex hormones coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.

While scientists don't yet know exactly why abdominal fat contributes to so many disease risks, they do know that the link is very real.

Numerous studies throughout the years have revealed the same findings: Where your body stores its fat is just as important as how much fat it's storing.

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How would you like a straight-talking guide to losing belly fat that won't have you doing endless crunches, situps or taking bogus pills? "The Truth about Six Pack Abs" has the answers:

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