An essential component of the human body, fat exists in two basic types: subcutaneous and visceral. Your genes play a large role in how many fat cells you have, what type of fat cells they are and where they are located. Your level of physical activity also plays a role in how much body fat you have.
Types of Fat
Subcutaneous fat lies in a layer just below the surface of the skin. A type of connective tissue, it contains blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles and clusters of fat cells. Subcutaneous fat serves as a layer of insulation for the body, helping the body maintain its internal temperature. It also serves as a cushion and an energy storage depot.
Visceral fat is the type of fat located in the abdominal cavity, surrounding vital organs. Accumulating deep under muscle tissue in the abdomen and expanding the waistline, visceral fat is more than just a storage depot. It produces hormones such as leptin and adiponectin. Normally released after a meal, leptin suppresses appetite. Adiponectin influences the cells' response to insulin.
A specific form of subcutaneous fat, cellulite has a dimpled appearance and is deposited just below the surface of the skin around the hips, thighs and buttocks. Even thin people may have cellulite, because everyone has subcutaneous fat. Cellulite is more pronounced when the connective tissue that separates fat cells into compartments has a honeycomb appearance, which is more common in women. As opposed to horizontal or crisscross patterns, the honeycomb-shaped fat cells are likely to protrude, creating the cottage-cheese effect. Cellulite becomes more noticeable as people age and their skin gets thinner.
Although cellulite -- and any kind of subcutaneous fat -- can be unsightly, visceral fat poses more dangerous health concerns. Excess visceral fat disrupts the body's balance of hormones, which can contribute to hardening of the arteries, trigger a raise in blood pressure, impair the body's ability to use insulin and raise the level of bad cholesterol while lowering the level of good cholesterol.
Regular exercise can help prevent the gain of excess fat as well as decrease your chances of developing cellulite. For people who are prone to developing cellulite, exercise will keep the dimpled look from becoming more pronounced.
Sensible eating, daily aerobic exercise and strength training two to three times per week are all helpful whether you want to lose visceral or subcutaneous fat, though you'll probably notice subcutaneous is more stubborn. Walk, jog or find another form of cardiovascular exercise that you enjoy and work out at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes each day. Any tool is fine for strength training, according to the American Council on Exercise, including free weights, machines or even just your body weight, which is all you need for exercises such as push-ups or pull-ups. Slow and steady weight loss as a result of healthy lifestyle changes should be the goal.
- Medline Plus: Cellulite
- American Council on Fitness: Exercise and Cellulite
- Virginia Tech: Health-Related Components of Physical Fitness
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About BMI for Adults
- "Journal of the American Medical Association"; Prevalence and Trends in Obesity; Katherine Flegal et al.; January 2010
- University of Pennsylvania; Fat...It's Not All That; Mary-Kate Perrone; August 2007