Which Exercises Will Help Me Lose Belly Fat?

Q: I can’t seem to get rid of the fat around my waist. What types of exercise should I focus on to shed extra belly fat?

A:  There are few places on the body where fat is as stubborn as the belly. Especially as we age, extra inches seem to pile on effortlessly around our midsection. For most of us, the reasons behind belly bulge include a combination of four key players: genes (how many fat cells you have and where those cells end up settling is partly hereditary); hormones (in women, estrogen production decreases during menopause, which can cause weight gain and added inches in the abdominal area in particular); stress (tension and adrenal hormones have a significant impact on visceral fat); and lifestyle (too little exercise and too many calories lead to extra pounds everywhere, but especially in your middle).

The good news is that belly fat does yield to a combination of diet and exercise, as long as it’s the right kind. Contrary to what you might think, “spot training” exercises that target just one area—like crunches—are not the answer. While they help tighten abdominal muscles, these moves won’t get rid of visceral fat, the kind that lives deep in the belly and is linked to a variety of serious health risks.

What will work is aerobic (cardio) exercise, the kind that burns fat everywhere in the body, belly included. Start with moderate-intensity workouts like brisk walking, running or biking for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, working your way up to 60 minutes if possible. Anything that raises your heart rate and makes you work up a sweat will help reduce visceral fat. Keeping track of your workout results, such as heart rate response and total calorie expenditure, can be a great gauge of your success. As you become more fit you should be able to accomplish a greater calorie burn in less time.

If you want to really step up the pace and burn more calories, try high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, in which you alternate brief periods of intense exercise with less-intense recovery periods. For example, if you’re a runner, try sprinting for one minute, then slow down to a walk or slow jog for another minute, then sprint again, alternating the run/walk 10 times. Studies show that HIIT may be more effective at targeting abdominal fat than steady-state endurance workouts, in which you stick to mostly the same pace for your entire routine.

Two more things to remember: First, strength training matters, too. In a study at the University of Pennsylvania, women who did an hour of weight training twice a week reduced their proportion of body fat by nearly four percent, but they were also more successful at keeping off visceral fat. And, most important, all the cardio workouts in the world won’t result in a flatter belly if you don’t keep a careful eye on the quality of the food you’re eating, too.

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