While genetics may partly dictate where you store fat, lifestyle also plays a role. And that means there are several changes you can make that can help decrease your waist-to-hip ratio and, with it, your risk of heart disease.
• Eat more whole grains. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who consumed three or more daily servings of whole grains had 10 percent less visceral abdominal fat than those who ate virtually no whole grains.
But you need to choose all your grains carefully to see these effects. The study also found that eating four or more servings a day of refined grains negated any belly fat benefits of whole-grain consumption.
• Focus on healthy fats. Eating more poly- and monounsaturated fats and fewer saturated fats can help reduce your waistline. These healthier fats have anti-inflammatory effects that help better regulate insulin and result in less fat stored in the abdomen. You’ll find them in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils, such as olive oil.
• Exercise regularly. A 2016 review of 117 studies found that while diet caused more weight loss than exercise, being active (even without weight loss) was related to a 6.1 percent decrease in visceral abdominal fat.
And there’s some recent evidence that high intensity interval training (HIIT), in which you do short bursts of activity at close to your peak heart rate followed by easier bouts, could be particularly effective at banishing belly fat, too.
“We’ve seen greater abdominal and visceral fat loss with HIIT than with moderate-intensity continuous exercise,” says Nathalie Boisseau, a professor of sports physiology at Université Clermont Auvergne in France. “The mechanisms are not known, but HIIT does promote greater fat oxidation during the recovery period.”
• Manage your stress. Observational studies that measure levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in saliva have found a connection between higher levels and increases in both BMI and abdominal obesity.
• Get more sleep. Research has shown that sleeping less can lead to weighing more, but a 2011 study published in the journal Clinical Obesity also found that those who slept 6 hours or less per night tended to put on that excess weight primarily around their middle.