Maintaining a flat belly does more than make you look great—it can help you live longer. Larger, flabby bellies are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. A flatter belly also improves blood vessel functioning and helps you sleep better.
Now we all know it’s impossible to target belly fat specifically when you diet. But losing weight overall will help shrink your waistline; more importantly, it will help reduce the dangerous layer of visceral fat, a type of fat within the abdominal cavity that you can’t see but that heightens health risks.
Here’s how to whittle down your overall weight and where it matters most.
1. Cut down carbs instead of fats
When researchers compared the effects of losing weight through a low-carbohydrate diet versus a low-fat diet for six months—each containing the same amount of calories—those on a low-carb diet lost an average of 10 pounds more than those on a low-fat diet. In addition to that, researchers found that fat loss percentages (compared to muscle loss) was higher in the low-carb diet.
2. Keep moving
Physical activity helps burn abdominal fat. One of the biggest benefits of exercise is that you get a lot of bang for your buck on body composition. Exercise seems to work off belly fat in particular because it reduces circulating levels of insulin—which would otherwise signal the body to hang on to fat—and causes the liver to use up fatty acids, especially those nearby visceral fat deposits.
The amount of exercise you need for weight loss depends on your goals. For most people, this can mean 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise nearly every day.
3. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial not only for your health but also for weight loss. Many studies have linked inadequate sleep with weight gain; more often than not the excess weight ends up as abdominal fat. This is due to the fact that when a person lacks sleep, they hunger hormones increases and your ability to make good food choices decreases. The rule here is to get at least 7 hours of sleep a day (naps not included).
4. Lift weights
Adding even moderate strength training to aerobic exercise helps build lean muscle mass, which causes you to burn more calories throughout the entire day, both at rest and during exercise.
5. Learn to read food labels
Compare and contrast brands. Some yogurts, for example, boast that they’re low in fat, but they’re higher in carbs and added sugars than others. Foods like gravy, mayonnaise, sauces and salad dressings often contain high amounts of fat and lots of calories.
6. Move away from processed foods
The ingredients in packaged goods and snack foods are often heavy on trans fats, added sugar and added salt or sodium—three things that make it difficult to lose weight.
7. Focus on the way your clothes fit and not the number on your scale
As you add muscle mass and lose fat, the reading on your bathroom scale may not change much, but your pants will be looser. That’s a better mark of progress. Measured around, your waistline should be less than 35 inches if you’re a woman or less than 40 inches if you’re a man to reduce heart and diabetes risks.
8. Hang out with like-minded health-focused friends
Research shows that you’re more apt to eat better and exercise more if your friends and family are doing the same.
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