You’re working out hard 4 times per week, you’re watching what you eat and giving up the extra desserts – so why isn’t your midsection hard as a rock by now?
You’re not alone in your frustration. Sixty-two percent of women say the body part they’re most self-conscious about is their belly.
As women age, their estrogen decreases and subcutaneous body fat (the fat we see under the skin in our thighs, hips, buttocks, abdomen) tends to shift from the arms, legs and hips to the abdomen. Where your body stores its fat depends partly on your genes, which we can’t control, and partly on your lifestyle, which we can control!
Although we can’t spot reduce fat (reducing fat in a specific body part), we can reduce our overall percentage of body fat through several methods:
1. Getting 6-8 hours of sleep helps to balance the production of the hormones ghrelin and leptin that regulate appetite.
2. Managing your stress, thereby reducing the cortisol levels that can prevent body fat loss (especially around the midsection). While you can’t always control the stress in your life, you can modify your response to it.
3. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and lean protein and low-fat dairy products.
4. Watch your sugar intake! Scientists at the University of Minnesota found that diet sodas and fake sugars (including those in alcohol) may increase your risk for metabolic syndrome, which results in higher levels of belly fat, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
5. Keep meal portion sizes in check. If you eat more than you burn, the unused calories turn into fat that gets stored in your belly (and elsewhere).
6. Weight and resistance train twice per week to reduce subcutaneous fat (the fat we can see).
7. Include vigorous aerobic activity to reduce both the fat we can see (Subcutaneous) and the fat around our organs (Visceral).
A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that combining cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise with resistance training is more effective than cardiovascular training alone in getting rid of abdominal fat so get to those combination workouts!
You can tone abdominal muscles with bicycles, planks and other targeted abdominal exercises, but these exercises won’t get rid of belly fat. To fight back the bulge, stick to the basics: focus on what you eat and how you exercise.