The fat hidden deep in your belly may not be visible, but it is much more dangerous to your health than the fat you can see, feel and measure around your waist or thighs. Visceral fat wraps itself around your organs and can change the way your body functions. How do you get rid of that deep and dangerous fat? A new study from UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests exercise is the answer.

“Visceral fat can affect local organs or the entire body system. Systemically it can affect your heart and liver, as well as abdominal organs,” Ian J. Neeland, MD, senior author and a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said in a statement. “When studies use weight and body mass index as a metric, we don't know if the interventions are reducing fat everywhere in the body, or just near the surface.”

Visceral fat wraps itself around your organs and can change the way your body functions.

To determine the best way to get rid of fat residing deep in your belly, researchers compared people treated with medications and people prescribed exercise. Over a period of six months, 3,602 people participated in a study in which their visceral fat was measured by a CT or MRI scan.

Exercise in the exercise group was monitored, not self-reported. The medications used in that portion of the study were approved by the FDA or in the FDA pipeline.

Both exercise and medications reduced visceral fat, but when measured per pound of body weight lost, exercise resulted in more significant losses.

Dr. Neeland explained: “The location and type of fat is important. If you just measure weight or BMI, you can underestimate the benefit to your health of losing weight. Exercise can actually melt visceral fat.”

Nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese. It was once believed that fat was a form of inert stored calories, but scientists now see it as an active organ. Some obese individuals develop heart disease or metabolic syndrome while others don’t. This study suggests that a combination of treatments can help reduce visceral fat and possibly prevent diseases associated with it.

If you have a protruding belly, you probably have some degree of visceral fat. To reduce it, exercise is key. High intensity interval workouts, resistance exercise and aerobic or endurance activities all help. Find what works for you, and do it consistently.

The study is published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.