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Got the belly blues?

You see your belly fat as the only thing standing between you and that bikini. But there’s a lot more to the story than meets the eye.

Deep within your abdomen lies visceral fat, or fat that surrounds your abdominal organs. Research has found that excess weight in this area increases the likelihood of conditions such as heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, gallbladder problems, high blood pressure and colorectal cancer.

So why is this fat so much more dangerous than other fat? Researchers aren’t quite sure. But they think that cells in these fat deposits help produce hormones that promote insulin resistance (a risk factor for diabetes) and inflammation, and adversely affect blood pressure and clotting. They also release fatty acids that negatively impact the making of blood fat, causing total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol to rise and knocking down good HDL cholesterol, raising your risk of heart disease.

Not sure whether your waist is a health risk? Just measure it. If your waist is more than 35 inches around, you need to talk with your healthcare provider to evaluate your disease risk.

Take charge

As you probably know, there are no shortcuts. Exercise and a healthy diet are key to minimizing your muffin top:

Exercise. Try a combination of strength training and at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily.

Diet. Watch those portion sizes, replace saturated fats with healthier monounsaturated fats (found in sources such as olive oil) and choose whole grains and fruits and vegetables over simple carbohydrates, like white bread.