Although exercise doesn’t directly affect belly fat — spot reduction is a myth — it can help reduce love handles by increasing calorie burning, which helps you lose fat from your entire body. The right moves can also tone your stomach muscles to help you achieve greater definition in your abdominal area, making you appear more fit. Talk to your doctor before making major changes to your diet or starting a workout plan.

Dietary Changes

You can’t direct your body to remove fat from specific regions, but when you lose weight your love handles will become less prominent, and they may even disappear. What you eat affects weight even more than exercise, so focus on lean, nutritious fare such as fresh produce, whole grain bread, brown rice, black beans, fish and reduced-fat cheese. To lose about 2 pounds per week, the University of Minnesota Medical Center recommends that, along with regular exercise, women eat 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day and men eat 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day.

Cardiovascular Exercises

Next to diet, cardiovascular exercises provide the best weapon against extra body fat. For maximum calorie burning, choose vigorous activities such as running at 6 mph or swimming laps, both of which burn about 372 calories every 30 minutes for a 155-pound person. Other good options include cycling, rowing and aerobic dance. Along with burning calories, cardio may further target love handles by reducing visceral fat that sits below your abdominal muscles. In fact, performing cardio is one of the most effective ways to lose visceral fat, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor Kerry Stewart, as quoted in a U.S. News & World Report article.

Abdominal Toning Exercises

While traditional sit-ups and crunches help tone your stomach, you’ll get better results with other exercises, according to the American Council on Exercise. ACE studied an assortment of abdominal-toning moves and found that the bicycle maneuver was most effective at sculpting muscles. To perform the bicycle maneuver, lie on your back with your hands behind your head and your knees bent. Alternate meeting each knee with the elbow diagonal from it, moving your legs in a pedaling motion. Other ACE recommendations include crunches on an exercise ball and vertical crunches.

Workout Planning

Exercise is only effective with regular participation, so engage in cardio 20 to 60 minutes per day, three to five days per week. If you’re new to exercise, start out with moderate activity, such as walking, and work up to more vigorous sessions. Also perform strength-training exercises — including weight lifting and body-weight exercises such as push-ups, lunges and squats — at least twice per week. Such exercises will benefit all body areas — not just your stomach. Warm up with a brisk walk before strength training or performing intense cardio, and stretch muscles only after they’re warmed up.

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