Unless you’ve been living in the wilderness with no wi-fi access, then you know that diet and exercise are both critical for maintaining your wellbeing and waistline.
Although changes in body weight are used my most people to tell if their diet and workout program are working, visceral adipose tissue—or VAT for short—is more relevant to your health and stronger predictor of disease and death.
In case you haven’t heard about visceral adipose tissue before, you’re not alone. Many people don’t understand the distinctions between different types of fat.
In fact, there are many types of fat. But here are the two that we’re going to be concerned about for this article.
- Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue (the fat that is underneath the skin)
- Visceral Adipose Tissue (the fat that surrounds your internal organs)
While having excess amounts of subcutaneous fat isn’t good, having too much visceral fat increases your chances of developing diabetes and having heart disease.
Compared to subcutaneous adipose tissue, VAT:
- Has more blood vessels
- Has more nerves
- Contains a larger number of inflammatory and immune cells
- Has more stress hormone (glucocorticoid) receptors
- Has more male sex hormone (androgen) receptors
- Is more metabolically active
- Is more sensitive to lipolysis
- Is more insulin-resistant
- And like I mentioned above, higher levels of visceral fat is a stronger predictor of disease and death than subcutaneous fat.
So now that I have you more concerned than ever about your belly fat, let’s talk about whether diet or exercise is better for getting rid of this nasty stuff.
To answer this question, I want to talk about a recent meta-analysis of 117 studies that was performed to determine this very thing. In case you’re not familiar with what a meta-analysis is, it’s the gold standard of evidence when it comes to research.
Here’s what the data of 117 studies confirm:
- Both exercise and diet cause VAT loss
- Diet caused a larger weight loss than exercise
- Exercise caused a greater decrease in visceral fat than diet
To simplify, both exercise and diet reduce VAT. Despite more weight being lost from diet, exercise tends to work better for reducing VAT.
Lastly, total body weight loss does not necessarily reflect changes in VAT and may be a poor measure when evaluating benefits of lifestyle-interventions like exercise and diet.
So what’s my take?
This is what I’ve been saying for years when people tell me that they’re on a diet to lose weight but they’re not exercising.
There’s no way around it.
You simply MUST exercise to have optimal health (as well to get rid of your belly fat).
We know that exercise:
- Burns calories while you do it (and sometimes after i.e. EPOC)
- Builds muscle (the ultimate calorie burning tissue)
- Makes you more sensitive to insulin
- Reduces your risk of heart disease
- Keeps your mind sharp
So what do I recommend when it comes to exercise?
- 2-4 days of strength training
- 2-4 days of aerobic exercise
- Being more active in general (i.e. 10k steps per day, paddleboarding, etc)
It’s not enough to just watch what you eat.
You must get up and MOVE!!!