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How to Lose Belly Fat

As we get older, belly fat seems to be ever-present and overstaying its welcome. Well, I don’t know if it was very welcome in the first place. I noticed that once I crossed the big 3-0 birthday milestone, it seemed as though my belly began magically crossing the Mason-Dixon Line–meaning over my belt.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 595 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

There a number of reasons why this may happen.

Why Belly Fat Increases with Age

At this stage in life, the number of calories we burn at rest starts to slow down. This is partly a result of the muscle loss that we begin experiencing at this age as well. Furthermore, many of us have transitioned to our full-time careers which means:

  • Most of our days are spent sitting at a desk (fewer calories burned again)
  • We have less time to shop for and prepare meals which can translate to consuming more restaurant foods
  • There may also be more life stress

The list goes on and on.

This creates a perfect storm of sorts that primes the body to store some of the calories we consume as belly fat. Some of that propensity for belly fat is genetic.

Oh, and why did I mention stress specifically? We’re finding that if we hang on to stress for weeks, months, and years and don’t deal with it in appropriate ways, then it can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.

Belly fat is particularly tricky to lose. It’s really stubborn for some reason. Sometimes you’ll be doing everything right, only to find that your wristwatch doesn’t fit as well as it did before. That’s because, instead of using the fat around the abdomen for fuel, the body decided to use that little bit of fat around the wrist for energy instead. What the heck body?? Again, part of this is genetic.

How to Get Rid of Belly Fat

Ok, so where does that leave us? Well, there’s no magic to it. When it comes to fat loss, in general, the best things to do are:

  1. Control your portions – if you want to lose fat, you have to force the body to burn it for fuel. To do that, you may have to decrease the amount of calories you consume each day. It doesn’t have to be by a lot; even a little reduction done consistently can lead to fat loss.
  2. Exercise – aerobic activity (like walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, etc.) combined with resistance training (yes, yoga and Pilates counts) seems to be the best formula. Oh, and remember how I mentioned that as we age, we tend to lose muscle? Well, resistance training helps prevent some of that muscle loss. Even better, if you can incorporate High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as part of your routine (for either your cardio or resistance training, or both), that may help burn belly fat, too. Researchers are finding that HIIT may lead to more body fat loss when compared to other forms of exercise.
  3. Get enough sleep – aim for 7-9 uninterrupted hours of sleep most nights. We’re learning that adequate sleep helps control hunger hormones, and at the same time, may change where the body chooses to store its fat.
  4. Manage stress – when we’re under stress for long periods of time, our bodies release this nasty hormone called cortisol. Cortisol not only lowers the body’s ability to fight off infection, but it increases appetite and tells our body to store more fat around the abdomen when we do eat!

Do Ab Workouts Help Burn Belly Fat?

Training abs is an important part of a balanced workout, but doing this alone will not lead to belly fat loss. What it will do is help those muscles pop once the belly fat starts to shrink down based on the tips above.

If you compare many of the more popular ab workouts, the common theme seems to be incorporating 45-minutes per week of ab-specific moves. That can be broken up into three 15-minute sessions, five 9-minute sessions, or however you choose to do the math. The bottom line here is that performing ab-specific moves regularly and consistently over time will help make those muscles develop. But you have to incorporate those other steps as well.

Don’t lose heart: stay consistent with these tips. You don’t have to be perfect. Even if you’re good most of the time, the body will respond. I’ve had to work hard to shrink my belly fat–a few years ago, it wasn’t a pretty sight. But with time and commitment, and using the tips I just shared, I’ve managed to keep it in check.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 595 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.