Belly fat is maligned for its way of tampering with any outfit that doesn’t involve a muumuu, but really there’s something way worse about the stuff: When white fat expands in your abdomen, nestling deep among your organs, it sets you up for some serious health trouble. In fact, research has shown that waist size is a bigger risk factor for serious diseases than your overall fat percentage.
We now know that this type of fat, called visceral fat, is metabolically active and churns out stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory substances called cytokines that affect the body’s production of insulin. The result: It’s worse than just being generally overweight; you’re looking at increased risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and even dementia.
Unfortunately, some women are just more prone to carrying weight in their middle instead of their hips and thighs, and there are plenty of scientific reasons why. Sometimes, it’s genetics—maybe your mother or grandmother was more apple-shaped. Belly fat can also increase around menopause, or for women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Even certain lifestyle habits, from sleep to stress, can make your belly grow. Speaking with a doctor will help you understand what other factors may be affecting your weight gain, but at the end of the day, nothing sheds belly fat like diet, exercise, and everyday changes to your lifestyle.
The smooth stomach of your dreams is always within reach, but it takes time and dedication. Commit to these daily habits, and you’ll start dropping pounds before you know it.
Never stop moving.
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heart rate up—wins over resistance training when it comes to getting rid of the stuff. A 2011 study from Duke, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week will help you lose belly fat. Researchers found that aerobic exercise burned 67% more calories in the study over resistance training.
Not a fan of running? Don’t give up on exercise yet. A regular walking routine will also help you get a flatter belly. Aim for 45 minutes to an hour of brisk walking every day, or try alternating between a brisk pace and leisurely stroll—our ultimate three-week walking plan is a good place to start.
And while high-intensity cardio may be the ultimate belly fat burner, don’t shy away from weight training and full-body workouts; they’ll help you grow stronger and boost your metabolism (to help you burn calories more easily) along the way. We asked one personal trainer to share the best workouts that burn fat from your entire body, including your belly. Some of her favorites: The rowing machine, heavy lifting with shorter rest times, and planking.