It is possible to lose stubborn belly fat, but you may need to go about it in more than one way. On their own, diet alterations or exercise might not be enough. Instead, you have a better chance of burning belly fat successfully by increasing the amount and intensity of your exercise routine; cutting excess sugar from your diet; and ensuring that you get enough sleep at night. Although these changes can target belly fat specifically, they can also help you lose weight overall.
How Exercise Helps Burn Belly Fat
Exercise can help reduce belly fat, which is sometimes referred to as visceral fat. However, you cannot target belly fat with a specific exercise; rather, you simply need to burn more calories than you take in.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise at least five times a week. That’s a total of 150 minutes per week. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take up running or renew your gym membership. In fact, incorporating a brisk walk or bicycle ride into your day are good places to start. Changing your habits in small ways, like parking further away from your office or opting for the stairs instead of the elevator, can help reshape your lifestyle.
However, if you enjoy going for a jog, it is important to note that running (or other vigorous exercise) for 25 minutes a day at least three days per week can yield similar results in half the amount of time. The general rule is that the harder you exercise, the quicker you’ll chip away at that visceral fat.
And don’t forget strength training: Try to get at least two sessions in per week of strength training using either free weights or machines. According to the lead author of a 2018 study in the journal Cell Metabolism, “regular exercise training reduces abdominal fat mass and thereby potentially also the risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases.”
Watch Your Diet
You don’t have to change your diet drastically to cut down on belly fat. In particular, cutting back on your daily sugar consumption can reduce belly fat, even if you start by reducing sugary beverages.
Sugar increases belly fat — even when it’s coming from fruit juice. This is because the juicing process removes fiber and leaves just the sugar behind. Soluble fiber can reduce belly fat, which is why you should opt for whole fruits instead of juice. Eliminating sugary drinks, such as sodas, can also decrease belly fat. Replace that can of soda with a glass of water and reap numerous benefits. Additionally, try replacing a high-fat, sweetened dessert with an assortment of your favorite fresh berries.
For your belly’s sake, focus on reducing carbs more than just counting calories or fat. Research suggests that incorporating monounsaturated fatty acids, such as oils, olives, nuts, and avocados, can help fight belly fat.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the experts at the American Heart Association agree that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in “good” fats, can help lose weight and keep belly fat at bay. These foods are often higher in unsaturated fats, and they’re also lower in calories and rich in nutrients. The Mediterranean diet largely consists of legumes, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables — and derives most of its healthy fats from food sources like olive oil, fish, and nuts. Aside from potentially helping to reduce belly fat, this type of diet can also lower the risk of heart disease.
Monitor Your Sleep
Research has shown that not getting enough sleep can cause abdominal fat to accumulate, especially in younger individuals. According to the Sleep Foundation, researchers have discovered that getting even an extra hour of sleep can make a big difference. The study in question showed that those who slept less than 5 hours per night were more likely to gain abdominal fat over a 5-year period compared with those who slept 6 or 7 hours each night.
Additionally, a 2019 study published in the journal Medicine showed that adults and children who got less sleep were more likely to be obese or overweight. These folks were also more likely to exhibit disordered eating behaviors and experience metabolic changes and a decrease in physical activity.
Stay Active Beyond Working Out
Staying active doesn’t necessarily mean working out. Taking small breaks during the day can be crucial, especially if you sit for a large portion of the day. Research has shown a direct correlation between sitting for prolonged periods ― 30 minutes or longer ― and an increased risk of health problems, including obesity.
A 2017 study in the Annals of Human Biology showed that participants who sat for at least eight hours a day had 62% higher odds of obesity compared to those who sat for less than four hours a day. If your job involves sitting at your desk for eight hours a day, set a timer and get up for a few minutes every hour. This could involve taking a short walk, refilling your water glass, or simply standing and stretching. As an added bonus, this helps refresh your brain.
- “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” via U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- “Taking Aim at Belly Fat” via Harvard School of Medicine, Harvard University
- “Women’s Health” via Mayo Clinic
- “Effect of diet with or without exercise on abdominal fat in postmenopausal women – a randomized trial” via BMC Public Health
- “8 Ways to Lose Belly Fat and Live a Healthier Life” via John Hopkins Medicine
- “Abdominal fat and what to do about it” via Harvard School of Medicine, Harvard University
- “Soluble fiber strikes a blow to belly fat” via Science Daily
- “How Do Monounsaturated Fats Help You to Lose Belly Fat?” via LiveStrong
- “Factors Associated with Visceral Fat Loss in Response to a Multifaceted Weight Loss Intervention” via U.S. National Library of Medicine
- “How exercise reduces belly fat in humans” via Science Daily
- “Exercise-Induced Changes in Visceral Adipose Tissue Mass Are Regulated by IL-6 Signaling: A Randomized Controlled Trial” via Clinical and Translational Report (Cell Metabolism)
- “What is the Mediterranean Diet?” via American Heart Association
- “Sitting time and obesity in a sample of adults from Europe and the USA” via Annals of Human Biology
- “Diet and Exercise and Sleep” via Sleep Foundation
- “Assessment of sleep and obesity in adults and children” via U.S. National Library of Medicine