Highly effective ways to banish your belly
By Laura Roberson and the Editors of Prevention
Belly fat, beer gut, tummy--you can call it what you like, but it's all the same dangerous fat. The excess, often firm fat around your middle is what doctors call "visceral fat." (Learn more about visceral fat here.)
As your waistline expands, individual fat cells inflate, which can lead to lower HDL "good" cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides, a type of fatty acid in the blood linked to heart disease.
Men tend to gain their weight in their bellies throughout life, but for women, it's not until middle age that their midsections become the hot spot for weight gain. As women's estrogen levels decline with age, their testosterone levels increase, causing them to shift to the male pattern of abdominal weight gain.
Regardless of gender, you naturally accumulate more fat as you age, often due to loss of muscle mass and a more sluggish metabolism. But that doesn't mean you should sit idly by and let the fat infiltrate your midsection. Use the following strategies to banish your belly fat for good.
Target your fat cells
Here's the great news about fat that sits around your middle: It pays attention when you exercise. "Abdominal fat cells may have different amounts of metabolic enzymes than other parts of your body, causing them to be more responsive to exercise," explains Tongjian You, PhD, the author of a Wake Forest University study on how belly fat is metabolized. He and other researchers found that people who diet and exercise shrink their abdominal fat cells twice as much as those who only diet--even if they lose the same amount of total weight.
Hit the ground running (or walking)
Studies show that the easiest way to shed your spare tire is by logging at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every day. What does "moderate intensity" mean? It's not a casual stroll. To be effective, you need to huff and puff a bit and break a sweat. And, no, that doesn't mean you have to sprint like a track star. Brisk walking is fine. Whether you're walking, running, or cycling, just make sure that you're exercising at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. The math is easy to calculate. First, find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 (Example: 220 - 40 = 180). Then multiply your max heart rate by 0.5 (180 x 0.5 = 90). Repeat the calculation, this time multiplying by 0.7 (180 x 0.7 = 126). The two numbers represent your target range in heartbeats per minute. Make sure you're hitting your max during exercise. Check your rate manually by counting pulse beats on your wrist for 10 seconds and then multiplying by 6. Even easier, use a heart-rate monitor, such as the Polar RS300X.
Try interval training
Even better than a half-hour run is speed interval training, which involves short, intense bursts of exercise followed by brief "rest" periods of moderate effort. You can do interval-style training with any type of exercise. Walking is a great way to start. In a Canadian study, exercisers who completed 30-minute interval workouts lost three times as much fat over 15 weeks as those who performed easier workouts at a steady pace for 45 minutes. Another study found that exercisers who did short, intense workouts experienced a 20 percent drop in visceral fat after 3 months. Those who did longer workouts at a more moderate pace saw no such change. You should perform intervals at an intensity where you can speak no more than a few words at a time. This helps you burn more calories while you exercise, but the real benefit comes afterward. The harder your workout, the longer it takes for your body to return to normal. The effect: You keep burning calories long after you leave the gym. Start by supplementing your normal workouts with two or three interval sessions per week. Some simple suggestions: Slip in your earbuds during your run and speed up during every other song. (Consider one of our 5 stay-put picks.) Or walk or jog quickly to the top of hill, then walk back down to recover.
Use the resistance-training secret
Muscle burns calories even when it isn't engaged in lifting groceries or propelling you up a long set of stairs. It's more metabolically active than fat is, requiring more calories just to sustain itself on your skeleton. The secret to staying lean as you age is to build muscle through resistance training. We're not talking about bulging bodybuilder muscles. Just firm, toned, attractive muscle. You can do it by using body-weight-only exercises or exercise bands or by lifting weights. Studies have shown that total-body resistance training actually targets visceral fat. In one study at Skidmore College, scientists found that people who performed a high-intensity resistance routine along with their cardio lost more than four times as much belly fat as cardio-only exercisers. (The weight-training group also increased their protein intake. Wondering how much protein you need? Find out here.)
More from Prevention: Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
When doing resistance training, mix up your workout by adding what's called a "tempo exercise" to boost the fat-burning benefits of the routine. Tempo exercises, where you lift weights using slow, steady movements, condition your body to burn more fat, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. How to do it: Lower the weight for 3 seconds, then take 3 seconds to press it up, without pausing in between. This can help boost your number of mitochondria--the parts of your cells that use fat to create fuel. The more mitochondria you have, the more belly fat you'll burn. Make sure to target all of the major muscle groups: arms, legs, shoulders, chest, back, hips, and core using this technique at least once a week.
Drink in moderation
There's a reason it's called a "beer belly." Beer is loaded with carbohydrates, but any alcohol--wine, wine spritzers, fruity cocktails, even straight vodka or whiskey--will inflate your waistline. That's because alcohol impairs your body's ability to burn fat; one study found it does so by as much as 36 percent. What's more, as your body breaks down the alcohol, it starts making fat from a chemical by-product of the process--a double whammy for your belly. A University of Buffalo study found that men who drink only once or twice every 2 weeks, but imbibe more than four drinks at a time, have more belly fat than those who down two alcoholic drinks a day. To avoid alcohol's belly-expanding effects, women should limit themselves to a single serving of alcohol per sitting; men should stop at two. (Here, 6 sneaky signs you're drinking too much!)
Keep Your Cool
When you're stressed out, your body releases a flood of cortisol, a hormone that encourages your body to store belly fat. The explanation: The fat around your middle has a higher number of cortisol receptors and a greater blood supply, so the hormone can travel there quickly.
Sip on green tea
The benefits of this beverage just keep adding up--green tea has been shown to help fight cancer, make your skin glow...and shrink belly fat! In a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition, exercisers who downed about four cups of green tea per day for 3 months shed eight times more abdominal fat than those who drank another caffeinated beverage. Green tea is loaded with weight loss-promoting compounds called catechins, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to accelerate fat burning. If you can't stand the stuff, try taking a green tea extract supplement that contains at least 200 milligrams of EGCG.
RELATED: 9 Food Swaps That Beat Belly Bloat
Turn in earlier
A poor sleep schedule doesn't just make you grumpy. Like stress, a lack of sleep spikes your cortisol levels, causing you to store more abdominal fat. According to Canadian researchers, people who average just 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night increase the likelihood of fat flocking to their stomach.
Join the calcium club
Milk isn't the only dairy that deserves real estate in your fridge. (Though it's the perfect reenergizer for a sluggish metabolism--check out these 13 Metabolism-Boosting Foods for More.) A University of Tennessee study found that overweight people who ate three servings of any type of calcium-rich dairy a day for 6 months lost more belly fat than dieters who consumed less. The calcium may decrease the likelihood that fat will flock to your stomach. Aim for one serving with every meal: a glass of milk with breakfast, a slice of cheese with lunch, and yogurt as an after-dinner treat, for example. Calcium supplements probably won't have the same effect, since proteins in dairy enhance the fat-burning effect of calcium.
Eat more healthy fats
Fat doesn't make you fat. Some people haven't gotten the message. Even saturated fats like those in beef and butter can help you lose weight because they are satiating. But monounsaturated fats are the best because they are heart healthy as well as satiating, and they may actually help trim your waistline. A recent study found that insulin-resistant people who ate a diet high in monounsaturated fats had less belly flab than those who loaded up on carbohydrates or saturated fats. Top sources of the healthy fats include macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, peanut butter, and olive oil.
Have your whey
Whey protein--the kind that's found in dairy--can help zap abdominal fat, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Ideally, you'll take in most of your whey protein from foods like yogurt and cheese. However, when you're in a pinch, a whey protein smoothie or meal replacement bar can provide a substantial hit of the belly-blasting stuff. Try storing one of the bars in your glove box in case you need an emergency pick-me-up.
Eliminate refined carbs
If you see "enriched f lour" in a food's ingredient list, you've fallen victim to refined carbs, which have been stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Switching to whole-grain versions of bread, pasta, rice, and cereal not only provides you with a payload of nutrients, but it can also target harmful belly fat. In a Penn State study, dieters who ate whole grains lost twice as much belly fat as those who ate refined carbs.
BEWARE: The Most Fattening Foods of Summer
Get more vitamin D
Research suggests that vitamin D partners with calcium to stamp out cortisol, the stress hormone that can increase your belly-fat storage. Also known as the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D is produced by your skin when it's exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, few of us produce enough vitamin D through sun exposure alone. That means you need to eat D-rich foods, such as salmon, swordfish, rainbow trout, tuna, or fortified cereals. Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement for extra insurance.
Don't fall for diet soda
You may think switching to diet soda is a smart move for your waistline. Wrong--the only smart move is cutting out soda entirely. In 2009, University of Texas researchers found that people who drink one diet soda a day have larger waists than those who rarely drink any soda. (That's not all; see 7 Side Effects Of Drinking Diet Soda.) If you crave fizz and flavor, sip on spritzers--carbonated water with a shot of fruit juice--instead.