Belly fat is the common enemy that millions of women have to deal with on an everyday basis. If you have been trying to lose belly fat lately, you might already know the pain. Fat from the abdominal region in particular can be very tricky to reduce.
I have seen people sweating out in the gyms and doing the same set of exercises to reduce fat from waist region in particular. But it seldom brings long lasting results. What..? Does that mean abdominal exercises can’t reduce belly fat? In a limited capacity it might, but it is a very wrong way of approaching weight loss.
There was a study conducted in 2011 to investigate the effects of abdominal exercises on reducing belly fat which included 24 healthy and sedentary participants who were made to do 7 abdominal exercises for a period of 6 weeks. The study concluded there has been no significant effect of these specific exercises on body weight, body fat percentage and abdominal circumference ( 1 ).
So six weeks of abdominal training ALONE was NOT sufficient to reduce subcutaneous fat from the abdominal region. Yet, so many people keep doing these spot reduction exercises religiously in the hopes of losing weight and get disheartened.
But there are other types of aerobic exercises which can help you reduce belly fat. The best approach is to combine these exercises with a proper diet and focus on an overall weight-loss regime which will help you to lose belly fat as a natural consequence.
Before we see some of the best exercises that can reduce belly fat, lets have a look at some of the fundamental principles that can help you achieve a permanent and natural weight loss.
Fundamental Principles Behind Losing Belly Fat
There is just one fundamental principle behind Weight Loss, “You need to burn more calories than you consume”.
Frankly speaking, there is no other way of losing weight other than this basic principle. And there are only 2 simple ways to achieve natural and everlasting weight-loss and those are:
1. Proper Diet
2. Proper Exercise
You will find countless diet plans and exercise routines that promise easy and effortless weight-loss. But how many of these work? Actually, that is not the right question, since I know that these do work in some way or another. But the right question is how many of these can work for you?
You will find articles about the Ketogenic diets and how HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training ) is the most effective in losing weight. But if you start doing these high-intensity workout from day one, you will end up causing more damage to your body than you can imagine.
The thing is, we have conditioned our bodies to adapt to the sedentary lifestyle by consuming all sorts of chemically processed fast-foods and sweetened beverages and barely any physical activity. On top of that our bodies might not even be prepared for such rigorous workouts and such a strenous session of cardio can also end up causing injury to our ligaments.
You need to take a proper assessment of your body and food-habits before you decide to follow any strict diet or fitness regime.
The best way of doing this by starting slow and beginning to incorporate healthy habits into your life. Extreme weight loss diets and fitness regimes can never be a substitute of life-long healthy habits that can help you live a healthier life.
Best Exercises to Lose Belly Fat
Yoga is one of the most effective exercises you can do to reduce belly fat. Unlike other exercises, Yoga offers a lot more beneficial and diverse behavioral, physical and psychological effects which makes it a lot more effectual in losing weight.
You need to make a positive shift from your previous bad-lifestyle to a healthy lifestyle and this is where Yoga helps you make a smooth transition. It is not as rigorous or intense as some of the other workouts and this ensures that you will enjoy and stick to it for a longer duration. It also plays a huge role in changing your mindset which is often a differentiating factor between someone who successfully looses belly fat and the one who struggles.
Yoga can also aid in improvement of mindfulness and develop a compassion for your own body. This heightened awareness can compel you to make positive and healthy changes in your lifestyle which can bring a positive change in your quality of life.
Walking is one of the easiest low impact exercises that can help you to lose weight and improve overall health. There are several studies which show that walking for just 150 minutes a week can not only help you to maintain stable weight, but also prevent you from regaining it ( 5, 6, 7 ).
Some of the other health benefits of walking are:
- It Strengthens Bones.
- Walking can improve cardiovascular health.
- It reduces excess body fat.
- Boosts stamina, muscular mass and endurance.
- It also reduces risk of developing conditions like osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and also cancer.
Exercise does not always have to vigorous to provide results and this is also the cheapest way to stay fit. It is extremely beneficial for people who are overweight, elderly or the ones who haven’t exercised in a long time.
Remember we talked about burning more calories than you consume? Well, Jogging helps you do just that. But if you have not been exercising for a while, it might be better to stick to walking and yoga at first as Jogging exerts a lot of pressure on your knees and ankles. It’s also important to have proper running shoes before you start jogging.
There are several factors like your jogging pace, duration of workouts, your consistency and also your current body weight which will determine how many calories you lose. But its also important to lower your calorie intake so that you can see results quickly.
If you are already in the relatively fit category, you can try running which is even faster than walking and this can help you to burn calories at a much quicker rate. Both Jogging and Running are forms of Aerobic Exercises. Aerobic basically means ‘with oxygen’ –and the term ‘aerobic exercise’ means any physical exercise which produces energy by combining oxygen with blood glucose or body fat.
Swimming is not only fun but it also makes you fit and offers other benefits like boosting your metabolism and burning lots of calories. There was a study conducted by researchers of Indiana University which compared recreational swimmers with people who don’t swim at all and it was found that recreational swimmers of all ages had a slimmer waist line, leaner muscles compared to people who don’t swim.
Unlike jogging or running, swimming is also good for joints as water neutralizes gravity and reduces the risk of injury.
There are also several other studies which indicate that habitual swimmers are biologically much younger than their actual age. According to American College of Sports Medicine Conference, several key health metrics like cardiovascular health, central nervous system, cholesterol levels etc. in habitual swimmers are comparable to much younger people.
Cycling is one of the most enjoyable ways of reduce belly fat. It is a comfortable form of aerobic exercise which can gradually help you build lean muscles and burn body fat. The best part is that you can change the time and intensity of the exercise to suit your needs.
Steady cycling can burn about 300 calories per hour and making this a habit ensures that all these burned calories soon add up.
One of the reasons which make cycling more enjoyable than other exercise forms is that it combines the happiness of being outdoors and exploring new views with steady burning of calories. It is also not a weight bearing exercise such as running.
Cycling also promotes weight loss as it raises your metabolic rate and is also good for your lung health.
Abdominal Exercises to reduce Belly Fat
As we saw earlier, abdominal exercises by itself won’t help you lose belly fat. But if you combine it with aerobic exercises and proper diet, you can see much better results.
Abdominal exercises can increase your muscular endurance and strengthen your core.
Crunches are the most popular ab-workouts and that help develop a stable and strong core. It also burns stomach fat so that you can flaunt your well toned stomach.
You can begin by lying down flat on the mat or floor with your knees bent and feet firmly touching the floor. You can keep your hands behind your head or just crossed on your chest. Keep your focus on the breaths and start doing deep breathing. As you exhale, gently move your upper torso towards your knees and feel the burn in your stomach region.
As you inhale, gently get back to your initial position on the mat. If you are just starting out, its better to start with just 10 reps and gradually increase the number of crunches as it gets easier with time.
There are other different variations of crunches you can try like Twist Crunches, Side Crunch, Reverse Crunches, Vertical Leg Crunch etc.
7. Bending Side to Side
This exercise is perfect for reducing side fat and removing those stubborn love handles. The visceral fat that is stored in belly can increase your chances of getting heart disease and diabetes. So its important to tackle this by making changes in your diet and doing cardio exercises such as these.
Stand erect with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on the sides. Keeping the feet in the fixed position, bend your upper body to your right direction by keeping your right hand on your right hip and the left hand raised in upward direction. Keep going till you start feeling a bit of strain in your left waist region and stay in this position for 10 seconds.
Now return to the original position and and repeat the same exercise while bending in the left direction. Gradually, increase the time you stay in fixed position as you get comfortable with exercise.
8. Side Planks
Planks are one of the best exercises for your core muscles. What makes it so effective is the fact that at one time, you have only two points touching on the ground.
Start by keeping your elbow underneath you and laying on the floor on your side. Lift your middle body off the ground, until your entire body is in one straight line. Try to hold your body in this position for for at least 30 to 35 seconds.
If you are not able to do so, you can lift again until you reach the 30 second mark. Repeat the exercise by turning over to the other side. In case you have any knee problems, you can modify the planks by resting your knees on the floor.
This is another effective exercise to your strengthen your abdominal core region. Start by placing both your hands and knees, firmly on the floor.
Extend your one arm in the forward direction, while simultaneously extending your opposite leg backwards.
Stay in this position for 5-10 seconds and keep your posture correct by keeping your back straight.
Repeat the same by switching over to the other side and repeating the entire set 5 to 10 times.
10. Bicycle Exercise
This is one of my favorite abdominal exercises and you don’t even need a bicycle for this. Start by lying down on the floor and and keeping your hands on the sides.
Lift both your feet off the floor while bending them at the knees just as we do while riding a bicycle. Keep your right knee close to your chest while you paddle with your left leg in the air. Repeat the same with other leg and keep moving both your feet in the air as if you were paddling an imaginary bicycle in the air.
This exercise is not only good for your cardiovascular health but also for your joints.
HIIT ( High-Intensity Interval Training) and Resistance Exercises to lose Belly Fat
We don’t acquire belly fat in one day. It is a result of long period of improper food habits, bare minimum physical activity and other imbalances in the body. In this way, we condition our bodies with bad habits and sedentary lifestyle.
In order to lose belly fat, the most important thing is to break this vicious cycle of bad habits that don’t contribute to our overall well-being.
The exercises we mentioned were listed in that order, because we wanted anyone living a sedentary lifestyle to get started with these exercises and start enjoying them. Almost any physical activity or aerobic exercise is good to raise your metabolism up to a certain limit and allowing your body to be in a calorie deficit, which can help you lose weight.
But if you want to see maximum results, you can incorporate HIIT ( High- Intensity Interval Training) and resistance and strength training into your routine.
HIIT is a form of cardio exercise which alternates between periods of short intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. It can raise your heart rate in a very short duration of time and is not recommended for absolute beginners. You need to start with simpler exercises before moving on this one.
There are variety of HIIT formats based on duration, intensity, the frequency of the work intervals and length of recovery intervals. All of these can make you burn a lot of fat and help you reduce belly fat much faster. A typical duration of HIIT workouts is around 10 to 30 minutes.
Similarly, Weight Training is a good way to improve composition of your body and replace unwanted fat with lean muscles. This muscle mass that you build by weight training can not only increase your metabolism for longer duration of time, but also help you get your body in best shape.
If you are still confused and looking for right exercises, stop right there. There is no such thing as perfect weight loss diet or exercise that can work for everyone. You need to listen to your body and intuitively find out what works the best for you.
If you can make necessary changes in your lifestyle, you will witness results that you never expected.