Although any exercise is better than none when it comes to slimming your midsection, you’ll have better results when you incorporate certain techniques into your workout. As a general rule, the more vigorous your activity, the more belly fat you’ll likely lose, and aerobic exercise is the most effective choice for burning fat quickly. If you’re sedentary now, see your doctor before starting a workout plan.
Exercise and Belly Fat
Despite claims splashed across magazine covers, you can’t spot-train to reduce fat in specific areas of your body. For example, performing 50 crunches will build muscle, but won’t directly affect belly fat. Exercise mainly affects fat levels by burning calories, and when you burn more calories than you eat, you lose fat from all over. That said, certain types of exercises are more helpful than others for shedding visceral fat, which sits deep in your abdomen. In general, cardiovascular exercises such as cycling, swimming, brisk walking and jogging will prove most effective for visceral fat loss.
The more vigorous your cardio, the more visceral fat you’re likely to shed, according to a study published in the journal “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” in 2008. Half of participants performed five weekly cardio sessions at 50 to 60 percent of maximum aerobic capacity, while the other half performed three weekly sessions at 75 to 80 percent of maximum aerobic capacity along with two sessions at the lower intensity. Exercise times were adjusted so that all groups burned 400 calories per workout; however, the higher-intensity group still lost the most visceral fat. Replicate these results with vigorous cardio such as running, cycling uphill or swimming laps at a brisk pace.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, causes you to burn more calories after your workout than steady-state cardio, according to a study presented at the the Integrative Biology of Exercise VI conference in October 2010. The study tracked round-the-clock calorie burning of healthy participants who worked out on stationary bikes. After performing routines that alternated 30-second sprints at maximum effort with four-minute recovery intervals at a slow pace, subjects burned about 200 more calories throughout the day. Although the calorie boost can help you lose fat faster, HIIT is not safe to perform more than once or twice per week with at least a day of recovery between sessions, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Although cardio has a more powerful effect on belly fat than strength-training exercises such as crunches, squats and pushups, performing both types of activity will help you lose more belly fat and better tone your abdominal muscles. A study published in the “Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science” in 2003 found that among participants who either dieted without exercise, dieted and performed only cardio or dieted and performed cardio and strength training, those who performed the combination exercise plan lost the most visceral fat and gained the most lean tissue.
References & Resources
- U.S. News and World Report: You May Be Fat and Not Even Know It
- American College of Sports Medicine: High-Intensity Exercise Best for Improving Body Composition
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition
- Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science: The Effect of Combined Aerobic and Resistance Exercise Training on Abdominal Fat in Obese Middle-Aged Women
- American Physiological Society: Minutes of Hard Exercise Can Lead to All-Day Calorie Burn
- American Council on Exercise: What is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and What are the Benefits?