Hands down, the body part, most people say they would improve, is abdominals and it doesn’t matter if they are male or female. It’s the golden standard of physical fitness and when you see someone who’s proud of their abs, you see their abs, a lot! You have to be relatively thin, with a pretty low BMI, to achieve the coveted “6-pack” cut abs, however, no matter your fitness level or weight loss stage, you can IMPROVE them, exponentially, with a little work.
Belly Fat Comes in Two Forms
The fact is, some of our belly fat is dangerous! It’s definitely worth the work it will take to lose it, or at least some of it.
There are two different types of abdominal fat, the kind you can see, feel and pinch and the kind you cannot: visceral. Visceral fat is the dangerous kind that surrounds your organs. AND the scary part is that it really doesn’t matter your size. You can be “skinny” and have this type of fat, which is dangerous in abundance. You need a little to cushion your organs and so on but too much is a bad thing.
The amount of visceral fat you have, is typically based on genetics, first and lifestyle choices, second, specifically your fitness habits. Thin people who are inactive can have high levels of visceral fat.
Too much visceral fat is linked to things like high blood pressure, type two diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and even dementia. For those of us with genetic tendencies to store visceral fat (like me), you do have control, it just means we have to work harder than those who don’t. You can typically tell by your shape: pear shape is less likely to have an abundance of belly fat and apple shape is more likely.
Have you ever heard the term fatty liver disease? It’s been linked to alcoholics for decades, but recently, it’s become a bit of an epidemic among non alcoholics, because obesity is also a cause of fatty liver. Obesity rates in America are on rapid rise. When your body runs out of places to store the fat, it deposits it in dangerous places.
The best way to guess if you have too much visceral fat is to measure your waist. For women, you should have a measurement of less than 35 inches at your natural waist. For men it is 40 inches and can usually be measured across the belly button, accurately. If your measurements are higher than these, you may be at risk.
What You Can Do
The main keys to controlling your belly fat are things we’ve all heard before: exercise vigorously, eat well, get enough sleep and manage your stress levels.
The important thing to know is that the intensity of your exercise is what matters, here. The cardio is important and the strength training sessions are just as important. Neither trumps the other, but what matters is that you are pushing your hardest, the ENTIRE time you’re doing it.
For most of us, we need 30-minutes of vigorous cardio (your heart rate is up, you are sweating and you are tired at the end) at least three times per week. Although, personally, I really think more like 5 times per week or 3 longer sessions, is needed.
We also need at least 2-3 sessions of muscle-building, strength training, per week. This would be best if you could begin this with the guidance of a certified personal trainer. The risk of injury is really not worth the savings. Classes are also an option. Check with your gym and make certain it’s not considered an aerobic class, but more strength training. It can be a combo, but it’s usually not enough to only do the combo classes. You could combine a class one day a week, with the rest of the week being exclusively weight lifting.
There is no reason you cannot combine the cardio and the strength into the same gym visit on the same day. BUT typically a good strength training is achieved in 45-minutes to 1-hour. Not less. So, if you have an hour and half all at once, consider yourself lucky and by all means, go for it. You will actually see more speedy results this way, if you’re capable of doing both. It’s harder than it sounds.
The true determination of success for losing your abdominal fat with exercise is whether or not you are pushing yourself, giving it your all vs. if you are going through the motions, hanging back on an elliptical, watching the TV and doing the same thing every time. The point is to: get your heart rate up, sweat like you’re at the gym and work those muscles. You SHOULD be tired and need a shower. It’s really, truly, the biggest predictor of success. Unfortunately, walking doesn’t usually cut it, unless it’s uphill and brisk enough to get your heart pumping. Walking is for vacation and dogs. Get moving!
We could really spend all day on this subject because this is where the biggest improvements are typically needed. If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time, you probably already know what’s coming.
Educating yourself about what’s healthy and what’s not is the best way to go. Learn about your foods and what they are doing for your body.
Here are a few of the big improvements that will net the most result in the least amount of time:
First, cut the high sugar or sugar-free sodas out of your life completely. Soda adds belly fat. Fruit juices to; they have an exorbitant amount of sugar (several pieces of fruit worth) and lack the fiber. Would you eat 5 oranges in one sitting?
Second, stop the fast food. This stuff is poisoning you anyway, it’s hardly food at all. AND it’s terrible for your wallet. Make your food at home. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You could have a turkey sandwich with a side of cucumbers and be way better off. Save your eating out for quality vs. quantity.
Third, add in veggies at two meals. I don’t care what you have to do to accomplish this. If you have to drink them, go for it. If you have to cook them, go for it. The only limit: no added excess fat like breading, oils or cheese. A little olive oil, fine, but no butter.
Fourth, limit processed foods. The biggest culprits, especially. The easiest things to consume, like snack crackers, cookies, sugary yogurt, fatty processed meats, donuts, etc… All of these will end up right where you don’t want them to and you’ll carry them around on you for months. Is it really worth all that? The best place in the supermarket to shop is the outer edges, avoiding the middle, all together. Think of everything in the middle ending up on YOUR middle. One thing is for certain, if you buy it, you’ll probably eat it.
Finally, stop the latte! Coffee addictions usually come in the form of sugary, creamy concoctions that do more harm than good. I actually go against the grain on coffee and place it into the healthy category, but not the sugary stuff! Black is the way to go.
There is obviously so much more to be done in the kitchen, but avoid these blunders, at a minimum.
The most illusive of them all, sleep is a huge factor in collecting belly fat. There have been many studies on this but it’s widely known in the medical community that those who average 6-7 hours per night, gain less visceral fat over 5-years, compared to those who sleep fewer than 5-hours per night (OR those who sleep more than 8).
So, sleep and sleep well!
Most of us struggle when we are stressed out, to make healthy food choices. Think about the impact of chronic stress on our weight and health, over days, months or years. This implication is bad enough, but…
…even worse, chronic stress can trigger an increase in cortisol response in the gut, which then causes fat to be stored centrally around the organs, aka visceral. GASP.
So many of our stressors are uncontrollable, but the times when we can, let’s try not to make something out of nothing. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. Think about belly fat the next time you find yourself on the brink of picking an argument over something silly.