We used to think of body fat as inactive tissue, meaning it didn’t have an active function in the body. “Now, it’s known as a hormone factory that can influence other health conditions and parts of the body.”
There are three different types of body fat:
Visceral body fat is a type of white fat that’s deeper within the trunk of the body, surrounding your organs, which is why it’s deemed the most dangerous kind. “It tends to have a higher turnover rate (meaning it can be broken down and stored more readily), which can make it more problematic for overall health.” While men tend to have more of it, it’s possible to be “skinny” and still have visceral fat around the abdomen.
Subcutaneous body fat is another type of white fat that’s closer to the skin’s surface. Andrews notes that women tend to have more of this type, and it’s the kind of body fat measured during a skinfold test.
Brown fat is a metabolically active fat tissue that helps produce heat. “Humans usually don’t have much of it, and it’s often only found in certain parts of the body, like the lower neck, collarbone, abdomen and along the spine. “Brown fat is more often found in people who are younger, leaner and male. It can also be found more often on people who live in colder climates.” What’s interesting is brown fat doesn’t have the association with poor health outcomes than white fat does and it
WHERE YOUR BODY FAT IS LOCATED AND WHAT IT MEANS.
- BELLY: You’ve probably heard about belly fat and the associated negative health outcomes. “Gaining weight primarily in the belly is associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Belly fat is usually made of both subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. “It seems its visceral fat that is particularly dangerous and the larger the amount of visceral fat, the higher the risk for cardio metabolic disease,” says Harkin. People with “healthy” BMIs may be at risk for poor health outcomes and cardio metabolic disease if they have a lot of belly fat.
- HIPS AND THIGHS: Fat stored around the hips generally isn’t associated with the same health problems as belly fat. A recent review in the British Medical Journal found larger waist measurements were associated with health risks, but larger hip and thigh measurements were not. Having larger hips and thighs relative to waist ratio was associated with a lower all-cause mortality risk, which may mean that having more body fat in these areas isn’t necessarily bad for your health. This may be due to two factors: Visceral fat isn’t found in these areas, and both measurements also include muscle — and having more muscle tissue is generally considered good for your health.
- OVERALL BODY FAT: Total body fat is also an important measure, but the ideal amount for health isn’t as cut-and-dry as you might think. “When it comes to overall body fat levels, each person has a different range where they tend to feel best and that’s sustainable for them to maintain. Still, keeping total body fat in check is important because it can influence overall inflammation. Chronic inflammation can attack healthy tissue and lead to problems like a weakened immune system, heart disease and cancer.
HOW TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY LEVEL OF BODY FAT
If you’re wondering how to land yourself in your personally comfortable body fat range, there’s a lot you can do, experts say.
- Eat a high-quality diet. “Beyond just tracking calories and macros, you should aim for foods that are minimally-processed. “Emphasizing plant foods also seems to help.”
- Stay active. “Our understanding has evolved to show there can be healthy at every size, and exercise can be a great mitigating factor,” “Studies have shown overweight and obese individuals who are fit have the same risk of death as normal’-weight, fit individuals.” People who are sedentary have a higher risk of mortality regardless of their BMI. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week.
- Drink mainly water, tea and/or coffee. “Sweetened beverages and alcohol, when consumed regularly, can promote body fat storage. Staying hydrated with sparkling or still water, anti-inflammatory containing green tea and antioxidant-rich coffee (black or with a little milk) is your best bets.
- Manage stress levels. “High levels of stress drawn out over an extended period can influence mood, hormones, sleep, hunger, metabolism and body composition. “When you notice your stress creeping up, make sure you have go-to strategies to rein things in.
- Find your sleep sweet spot. Sleep is the foundation of all the other factors listed here, making it one of the most important on this list. “We’re all different, so aim to find the amount of sleep that allows you to feel well-rested. You can also take steps to unwind at night with a bedtime routine and should ensure you have a sleep sanctuary that’s cool and free of blue light from any devices.