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Although crunches are one of the most popular ab exercises, they are not the most effective way to get rid of belly fat. Slimming your midsection means losing total body fat, which calls for regular cardio exercise as well as total-body strength training and a healthy eating plan. Once you’ve ditched the spare tire, ab toning exercises can help you strengthen your core muscles to show off your hard work.

Burn Calories

According to Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, the abdominal region is among the most difficult parts of the body to slim down. Bryant writes that reducing fat in one area of the body is only possible by burning enough calories to reduce fat throughout the body. And when it comes to calorie burning, cardio exercise is more effective than spot toning. MayoClinic.com reports that one hour of jogging burns more than 600 calories for a 160-pound person, but that 60 minutes of resistance training burns just 365.

Put In the Time

Exercising in 10- or 15-minute spurts can benefit your cardiovascular health, but you’ll need to put in more time to burn fat. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, but according to Harvard University’s “Nutrition Source,” that’s only sufficient for weight loss if you’re also cutting calories. Dr. John Jakicic, head of the University of Pittsburgh’s health department, agrees. “To maximize weight loss, overweight individuals should supplement dietary changes with approximately 300 minutes of exercise each week,” Jakicic told Fox News in a 2005 interview. That’s an average of just over 40 minutes per day.

Total-Body Training

Resistance training may not burn as many calories as cardio, but it does boost your metabolism. According to CNN consultant Dr. Sanjay Gupta, smart strength training can reduce belly fat. Gupta recommends total-body training, such as pushups, pullups, squats and lunges, using just your body weight, free weights or machines. Aim for two to three strength-training sessions per week that are at least 30 minutes long, and build up to using heavier weights so that you’re continually challenging your body.

Ab Toning

When you begin losing fat, you can supplement your total-body routine with toning exercises that target your tummy. Core exercises improve strength, stability, posture, balance and appearance. In addition to regular crunches, try bicycle crunches, standing crunches, reverse crunches and toe taps. The plank pose is also an effective strengthening exercise, especially when you combine it with movement to burn more calories. Try dynamic plank variations such as plank jacks, mountain climbers or alternating quadrupeds.

Nutrition

Exercise is critical for losing excess fat and maintaining that weight loss, but nutrition may be even more important. Mayo Clinic preventive medicine specialist Dr. Donald Hensrud writes that dietary changes and calorie cutting are more effective at encouraging fat loss than physical activity. Keeping a food journal, eating more fruits and vegetables, preparing more of your own meals and following a plan worked out with a nutritionist are all steps that can help you get a slimmer belly and keep it that way over time. Before you make any big dietary or exercise changes, get approval from your doctor.

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