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Doctors Say 'Stress Belly' Should Not Be Ignored

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Worried about fat accumulation in your mid-section? It could be a lack of exercise or an unhealthy diet. It also could be your body telling you that you are in danger.

Doctors have a name for it. It's called "stress belly." That extra emotional weight on your shoulders could be going straight to your belly.

When people are under chronic stress, doctors say the body goes into a danger mode.

"What happens to people under stress is that they release certain hormones," Dr Luigi Menenghini, Internal Medicine physician and Executive Director of the Global Diabetes Program at Parkland Hospital said.

Stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol are released. "Under healthy condition when they are released because of acute stress, that's actually OK, it helps you survive," Dr Menenghini said.

This is for the body to prepare you to react, fight or flee!

It's a good thing until it isn't.

"If that release of stress hormone is constant, it changes your metabolism to where you start accumulating fat, and part of that fat is being accumulated around the belly, hence, stress belly," Dr Menenghini said.

Doctors say this accumulation in your mid-section is more than how you would look in a pair of jeans. The excess fat can accumulate in your internal organs--like the liver, pancreas and heart causing health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

"Weight does matter but it doesn't matter as much as where it is," Dr. Menenghini said.

In general, having an apple shaped body, carrying weight around your abdomen instead of on your legs and thighs can increase your risk.

It's difficult to pinpoint whether stress, genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise or a combination are to blame but the good news is stress belly is reversible.

"If you're able to address the stress that is causing the accumulation of fat, absolutely," said Dr. Menenghini.

Along with eating well and exercise doctors say sleep matters.

And relaxation exercise like yoga or breathing can help, too.

Ranjeeta Rath, founder of The Yoga Retreat in Southlake says mind-body relaxation can help relieve stress. Yoga breathing exercise will help you slow down and be more mindful. Stretching and exercise will help you body shape up. She says if the mind is well, the body will follow.

One of her students Tara Eddins, a mom of four, says yoga has helped her a lot.

"I'm a better wife, better mom, I'm more relaxed," she said

Rath says you don't to go to a fancy exercise class to relax. "You can sit on your bed and breathe properly," she said.

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