It’s hiding deep inside you, and it might just lead to a broken leg. The bones in people with high levels of fat around their organs—called visceral fat—are weaker and more flexible than those in people with the same body mass index but less hidden fat, a new study finds.
Harvard Medical School researchers measured the visceral fat, muscle mass, and bone strength of 35 men using CT scans. The men with the highest levels of hidden fat also had the weakest bones.
Unlike regular fat cells, visceral fat secretes messenger chemicals that signal your bones to break themselves down—and to forget about rebuilding, says lead study author Miriam Bredella, M.D., of Harvard Medical School. (Visceral fat also increases your heart disease risk. Click here to learn how to avoid The Skinny Man’s Heart Threat.)
The scary part: Visceral fat is hard to spot, and skinny-looking people aren’t immune. If you have a waist circumference greater than 40 inches, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, it’s almost a sure bet that you have high levels of visceral fat, says David L. Katz, M.D., of Yale University. If you pass one test and fail the other, consider scheduling a fasting insulin test, Dr. Katz says. Because visceral fat increases your body’s insulin production, the test can help determine how much hidden fat you’re carrying.
The solution? Amp up your intensity. According to a recent study published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, people who went on a high-intensity training program 4 days a week for 12 weeks lost 15 square inches of visceral fat, while people who stuck with a moderate exercise program actually put on just under 2 square inches of visceral fat. (For a workout you can do at home right now, try the new Men’s Health Train for Life Challenge!)
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