Belly fat is a dangerous type of fat that’s linked to health complications such as heart disease. It’s best to lose belly fat gradually through mindful lifestyle changes.
The good news is that belly fat usually comes off first when people lose weight, says Cording. Dietary changes and moderate exercise — such as walking, gardening or playing soccer — are key to reducing belly fat.
Everyone has some belly fat, but too much can put you at risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The good news is that you can trim belly fat with moderate exercise and a healthy diet.
The first step is to increase your overall activity level. Try adding 30 minutes of moderate exercise — that means anything that raises your heart rate, such as walking, dancing or running — to your routine three times per week. This will help you create a calorie deficit, which helps burn body fat and reduce belly fat over time.
Remember, though, that targeted exercises like crunches and sit-ups do not burn abdominal fat. The key is to reduce overall body fat, and that requires a combination of cardiovascular exercise with strength training. Exercise helps to build muscle, which can replace body fat and keep you looking lean in the long run. Ask your health care provider about a safe, appropriate exercise program for you.
Belly fat, or visceral fat, is a genuine health concern. This deep abdominal fat surrounds your vital organs and can release toxins into your bloodstream, increasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other problems. Research has shown that losing weight — particularly belly fat – reduces these health risks.
Diet is an important factor in belly fat loss. Eating a healthy diet low in calories from processed, baked goods, French fries and high-sugar foods helps create a caloric deficit that burns both excess belly fat and subcutaneous fat. In addition, eating plenty of fiber-rich, plant-based whole foods like vegetables and fruits and lean protein, such as fish, nuts and beans, can also help.
Cooking meals at home can be helpful as well. A study found that people who ate five or more homemade meals per week were less likely to have excess belly fat than those who ate three or fewer homemade meals weekly.
Eliminating unattractive belly fat, or love handles, requires more than adjusting your diet and exercise routine. Sleep is linked to hormonal and metabolic processes that can impact your ability to lose weight. Studies have shown that a poor sleeping pattern can hamper your ability to lose weight and lead to chronic health conditions.
Getting enough sleep also affects whether your body burns fat or muscle during calorie restriction. One study found that people who slept 5.5 hours per night during a 14-day calorie restriction period lost less fat than those who slept 8.5 hours per night. This was attributed to a shift in metabolism, with short sleepers losing more non-fat mass such as muscle than fat.
To get a better night’s rest, shut down all electronic devices an hour before going to bed and stick to a consistent schedule so your body knows when it’s time to go to sleep. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
Stress is a major cause of belly fat. When you’re stressed, the hormone cortisol triggers a rise in hunger, which is why many people gain weight when they feel anxious or overwhelmed.
The good news is that stress is a lifestyle issue that you can control. Incorporating a few key healthy habits into your daily routine can help reduce your stress levels and get rid of that stress-related belly fat.
Try to practice meditation, yoga, activities with friends, reading and other hobbies that relax you. Avoid smoking and drinking, as these are both known to increase stress and cortisol levels.
Getting more sleep is also essential. Research shows that adults who sleep less than six hours per night are more likely to develop visceral fat. Incorporate a sleep schedule into your daily routine that includes exercise, a healthy diet and relaxation techniques. If you’re unable to lose stress-related belly fat with self-care strategies, consider seeing a mental health professional for individual or group therapy sessions.