Everyone eventually has to deal with a little belly fat — even those of us who naturally had flat stomachs in our younger years. But too much of this type of tissue can have a negative effect on your health. But how much is too much? That depends on several factors, but experts agree that if you’re a woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more or a man with a waist measuring 40 inches or more, you’re vulnerable to the dangers of belly fat.
It’s not just about the way your jeans fit. Excess abdominal fat increases your odds of developing some serious diseases, including diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer. Want to tip the scales toward better health and a smaller waistline? Try these healthy techniques to help banish belly fat and get fitter.
Head to the Kitchen to Get Started
Have you heard the saying “Great abs are made in the kitchen?” It’s true — what you eat really matters. And that certainly applies to taking a healthy approach to losing belly fat. For starters, it helps to know what to eat — and what to avoid. Skip high-sugar foods and drinks. Take a hard pass on anything with high fructose corn syrup, chuck trans-fats from your pantry and limit your intake of processed white-flour breads and pastas. All of these foods can contribute to gaining belly fat.
Instead, load up on fiber-rich foods; these can help you feel full longer by stabilizing hunger hormones so you don’t want to eat as often. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits are all good sources of soluble fiber, your belly fat-fighting sidekick. High-protein foods, including fish, chicken, eggs and dairy, have also been shown to reduce belly fat gain. They can help keep you feeling full and boost your metabolism, too. Good-for-you fats like olive oil and avocados also contribute to satiety, meaning you’ll stay full and, as a result, eat less.
Get Moving to Get Losing
There’s no single exercise that can blast away belly fat. Experts agree that spot reduction, such as doing hundreds of daily situps and crunches to slim your waist, isn’t the best or healthiest way to get the job done. You’ll likely end up with rock-hard abs under a layer of pudge. Instead, look for workouts that combine strength training, cardio and core work to reduce body fat and whittle your middle. As an added bonus, regular exercise can lower your blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and improve the metabolism issues associated with carrying excess belly fat.
Even if you’re new to fitness, you can start where you are. Go for a walk, hop on a stationary bike — just get moving. Running, walking, swimming and bicycling are all good ways to get your heart pumping. Start building fitness into your daily routine to make a habit of it. For example, you can start walking on your lunch breaks at work, or hop on the treadmill while your favorite TV show is airing. The less you have to go out of your way to get workouts in initially, the easier it’ll be for you to make fitness a lifelong health-boosting habit and reach a healthy weight.
Lose the Lifestyle Limitations for Lasting Losses
Diet and exercise are important, but they’re not the only things you need to address to shed stubborn belly fat. Reducing your alcohol intake, for example, is one beneficial adjustment you can make. Excessive alcohol consumption not only makes it easier to pack on pounds (it’s all empty calories), but it also can damage your liver, increase your odds of developing health problems and increase inflammation. Alcohol has also been linked to suppressing your body’s natural fat-burning abilities.
Other healthy changes to make include drinking more water every day, which can boost your metabolism and help flush toxins from your body. Reducing your stress levels is another key step. Stress is linked to higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which can cause your body to hold onto fat in your abdomen.
Lastly, make sure you prioritize getting a good night’s sleep — every night. In one recent study from the journal SLEEP, researchers found a clear link between the amount of sleep people get every night and the amount of weight they gain, particularly around their midsections. Short sleepers, who sleep fewer than five hours every night on average, are at the highest risk of gaining abdominal fat. So rest up to boost your chances of maintaining a healthy weight.