Listen to your gut. Research shows that abdominal fat is an indicator of heart health.

A study published earlier this year in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that extra belly fat could increase the chances of repeat strokes and heart attacks. Researchers followed almost 23,000 people who recently had a cardiac malfunction. After four years of observation, people with more abdominal fat were significantly more likely to experience another stroke or heart attack.

This is because excess fat around the belly may be a sign of visceral fat. This is fat that wraps around the important organs in the abdomen—the liver, stomach, and intestines. Visceral fat can also clog the arteries and cause problems with blood pressure and cholesterol. While it’s difficult to know for sure how much visceral fat is present in the body (it is measured most accurately with a CT or MRI scan), keeping an eye on your waistline is a good place to start.

Just remember that the belly is the window to the heart, or, at least, could be indicative of greater cardiovascular risks. Another recent study conducted in Korea found that adults with an otherwise normal body mass index (BMI) had more cardiovascular risk factors when they had excess abdominal weight.

The best workout to shed abdominal fat (according to research).  

If you’re looking to lose belly fat, of course a regimen of healthy eating and exercise is the place to start. But what type of exercise is best? Some programs insist that aerobic activity is the way to go, while others suggest strength training is the answer. As it turns out, the best thing to do is combine them.

A brand new meta-analysis published in Advances in Nutrition reviewed the results from 43 studies of training styles and their outcomes. The results showed that while aerobic exercise is slightly more effective than strength training at decreasing belly fat, the most significant changes occurred when the two methods were combined.

We can’t talk about the marriage of strength training and aerobic activity without talking about HIIT workouts. HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. These workouts are brief, all-out bursts of exercise that can incorporate both cardio and strength exercises. Utilizing weights during a HIIT workout is also referred to as metabolic resistance training, and it is the ultimate way to burn fat and calories efficiently.

HIIT workouts are effective because they elevate the heart rate quickly, so if you plan to incorporate weight training (that requires more careful and controlled movements), consider taking shorter rests in between each set.

Small changes matter.

Taking steps toward a healthy heart does not require a dramatic transformation. Losing fat is a process and every milestone counts. In fact, researchers found that losing just 5 to 10 percent of body fat can significantly decrease health risks. This is especially true of abdominal fat loss.