Personal Training Director, Jay McWilliams
We continue on with our discussion of body composition this week with an important but often overlooked subject: the difference between visceral and subcutaneous fat. Everybody has both, but the distribution of fat in your body has serious health implications. Previously when we talked about body composition, we kept things pretty simple: we left it at body fat percentage and lean mass percentage (everything else). But for two people with the exact same body fat percentage and weight, there can be important differences in where the fat is stored.
Subcutaneous fat lies below the skin and above the muscle. This fat is less detrimental to your health (although it may be covering up those six pack abs you’ve been working so hard for). In fact, appropriate levels of subcutaneous fat have been shown to reduce the risk of broken bones in the elderly, simply by providing a cushioning effect. So, remember, leaner isn’t always better after a point. The more sinister fat we all have is visceral fat. Visceral fat resides in the abdomen, surrounding our internal organs, and even invading the tissue of our liver. Visceral fat has more profound metabolic effects on the body than subcutaneous fat, and is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Some people with dangerously high levels of visceral fat are by no means overweight, but the excess fat in the “belly” increases their risk of heart disease.
How do I know if I have too much visceral fat? One simple way to screen for excess visceral fat is a waist to hip ratio. Simply measure your waist just above the navel and your hips at the widest point. The ratio of these two numbers (waist/hip) should be less than 0.9 for women and less than 1 for men. People with a more “pear-shaped” weight distribution are at significantly lower risk of heart disease even if they are overweight. The good news for all of us is that exercise tends to target visceral fat first. So your morning spin class and your evening Tabata are doing an essential job at reducing the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease, even if you don’t see the numbers on the scale moving at first.
Keep up the good work people!