Newswise — Did you know that a large belly carries a risk equivalent for coronary artery disease comparable to smoking a pack of cigarettes daily or having high cholesterol? People with coronary artery disease and expanded waistlines are at more than twice the risk of dying, including those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the normal range.

These conclusions result from a large study by the Mayo Clinic, involving almost 16,000 people from five countries around the world. Authors Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, of the new book TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust (BSH, 2011), claim, the problem is deeper. It is not just the fat you see. “Even more dangerous is the visceral belly fat that resides in the abdominal cavity and surrounds the internal organs. This internal fat actually makes up a large proportion of the waist measurement,” say the Griesels.

Visceral fat is more metabolically active and can produce hormones and other substances that have a negative impact on your health including increasing the risk of serious health problems like heart disease; high blood pressure; stroke; type 2 diabetes; metabolic syndrome; some types of cancer; and sleep apnea.

Contrary to common thinking, BMI is not the best measurement for overall risk because many people with readings in the normal range still have dangerous levels of (hidden) visceral fat. BMI is just a measure of weight in proportion to height.

“Throw away your traditional scale,” say the Griesels. “The only relevant measurement is your Body Fat Percentage. This can be easily calculated with a neck and waist measurement for men, and neck, waist and hip measurements for women.” They offer a free body fat calculator, with algorithms designed by the US Navy, at their website: Interestingly, even if you are not overweight, a waist measurement of over 33 inches, regardless of your weight, increases health risks.

Improper diet along with lack of activity are the root of the problem, causing both loss of lean body mass and an increase in both visceral and subcutaneous fat. Too much stress adds to the problem, triggering release of the hormone cortisol that causes the liver to produce excess sugar. The excess sugar triggers hunger, so we’re more likely to eat more and, as a result, gain more fat.

The Griesel’s recommendations? Be sure to eat a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meats and fish. Simultaneously, increase your overall activity. Walking in particular will result in a quick reduction in visceral fat as well as unsightly subcutaneous fat and do wonders for your overall health and risk of serious disease.

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