Body Fat

by Barb Green, Parish Nurse

Milton, WI

Body Fat

Fat is an organ that can help or harm your health. Everyone has fat; we need it to survive. The trick is understanding the difference between the kinds of fat and keeping them in balance with diet, exercise and common sense.

Subcutaneous fat lies directly underneath the skin. It stores energy and provides essential padding. It also generates adiponectin, a hormone that helps regulate insulin production. The more fat, the less adiponectin produced, which causes the body to have trouble regulating insulin, increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Blast it off by cutting calories and exercising. Even little bursts of energy help. If you already exercise step it up, as a higher exertion level helps the body to keep burning fat even after the activity ceases.

Visceral fat is nestled deep within the belly, padding the spaces around the abdominal organs. You can’t feel or grab it. It secretes inflammatory proteins called cytokines that affect insulin production and increase inflammation throughout the body raising the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease and earning the name “toxic fat.” It is usually visceral fat that we add as we age. To reduce this type of fat, eat a balanced diet with lean protein while controlling your carb and fat intake. Aerobic exercise is the best workout.

Ectopic fat has the same metabolic properties as visceral fat, but settles in the heart, liver, pancreas and muscles. Most have only a few pounds but it is dangerous because it’s inside vital organs increasing the risk of heart disease, liver damage, and type 2 diabetes. The more you sit the more likely you are to have this type of fat around your heart. Stay active.

Brown fat is mainly around the neck, collarbone and chest. Although it has been assumed that it is present only in infants, helping to keep them warm, recent studies reveal that some adults still have brown cells. It becomes metabolically active when we’re exposed to cold temperatures, burning up energy. Because it generates heat, it burns more calories at rest. To activate this fat, prepare to shiver. Spending 10-15 minutes in temperatures below 60 degrees produces a hormone called irisin, which appears to make white fat cells act like brown fat — so keep the thermostat low. Brown fat may reduce the risk of diabetes because it vacuums up excess glucose from the blood.

The number of fat cells you have is set early. You don’t get more of them when you gain weight. Instead, the fat cells swell as triglycerides are stored in them and as the fat cells swell so does the body. Boys tend to be born with more fat cells in their belly, while girls are born with more in their hips, thighs, and butt. Between the ages of 9 and 19 the volume of fat in girls more than doubles due to a surge of estrogen. Post-pregnancy fat is hard to get rid of because it’s reserve storage for the demands of breast feeding. The body is hardwired to hold onto some of these reserves until after you wean the baby. Once women go through menopause, their fat storage tends to mimic that of men’s. You may start sporting what looks like a beer belly instead of storing fat around the hips and thighs.

Three ways to burn flab faster include resistance training, rest, and relaxation. A strength workout that incorporates high intensity interval training will help burn calories and fat stores at a higher rate than straight sets. Lack of sleep can wreak havoc on hormones that control fat metabolism. Finding ways to relax may reduce cortisol levels (high levels of the stress hormone are linked to belly fat). Some examples are yoga, prayer, meditating on God’s word, or listening to hymns or praise songs. Fat, essential to our health, may also cause us to be unhealthy. Once again proper diet, exercise, rest and relaxation will keep us whole.

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