According to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, men and women with large waist-to-hip ratios have increased mortality risk than people who are obese or overweight.

People with belly fat have an increased risk of heart disease and of developing Type 2 diabetes. The study, which included 15,000 people, concluded that men with pot bellies had twice the mortality risk as men who were overweight or obese, while women with excess belly fat had 1.5 times the mortality risk as women who were overweight or obese.

Fat around your stomach goes into the body and around internal organs. The liver, for example, may take the fat and turn it into cholesterol, which will go into the bloodstream to clog arteries and increase risk of heart attack and stroke. Belly fat also raises glucose levels and lowers muscle mass, and it can cause the body to become insulin resistant, which may lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Exercise and a healthy diet will help reduce and keep off belly fat. Moderate exercise, such as walking for 50 minutes three times a week or 30 minutes six times a week, will help reduce fat and weight. Add strength training to improve muscle mass. Avoiding processed foods, eating meat only a few times a month, reducing salt, eating whole grains and nuts, and replacing butter with olive oil will help, as will watching portion sizes and avoiding white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks. It’s also a good idea to reduce stress since high stress levels have been linked to increased belly fat in women. Try quiet moments of deep breathing, yoga, and spending time in nature to relieve stress.