Can You Target Belly Fat with Exercise?

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Chances are at some point in your life you have wondered what the best way is to shed fat and lose inches around the waist. With much buzz around the “quarantine-15” and summer quickly approaching, this is a question on many people’s minds.

Although everyone carries some amount of fat in their abdomen, having too much in the stomach area can cause problems. Having excess weight in the midsection, otherwise known as excess abdominal adiposity, is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance (a risk factor for type 2 diabetes) and heart disease.

So how can I target this pesky belly fat?

Despite what you read on the internet, there are no magic foods or workouts that target and burn just belly fat. When your body loses fat, it loses it all over.

Here is one reason why…

The fat in your fat cells are called triglycerides. When you do crunches, your abdominal muscles cannot use whole triglycerides as fuel – they must be broken down first into smaller components (glycerol and free fatty acids). Therefore, the fat used for energy during core workouts can come from anywhere in the body, not just the stomach area.

If your goal is to have defined abdominal muscles, then yes, crunches and core workouts will be required to build up the muscles. However, if you do not take the necessary steps to reduce your overall body fat, your new rock-hard 6-pack will most likely stay hidden.

So, what are the necessary steps to reduce overall body fat?

To put it simply…

  1. Decrease the number of calories eaten each day.
  2. Increase the number of calories burned through daily exercise.

Exercise alone is not enough to promote weight loss. The first step towards weight (and fat) loss is adjusting the number of calories eaten each day. Once you transition into the weight maintenance phase, then exercise takes on a more significant role.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is often promoted as the most efficient exercise strategy for burning fat because of its potential to burn a large number of calories in a short amount of time. One systematic review and meta-analysis compared HIIT to moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) (e.g. going for a run) and found both produced similar improvements to body fat, but HIIT workouts required ~40% less time each week. This would suggest that HIIT training is just as effective as continuous exercise but requires less time to see results.

However, not all studies have come to the same conclusion. If the calories burned during HIIT workouts are not great enough to provide an overall calorie deficit, body fat loss is unlikely. In this case, you may be better off going for a run a few times a week.

Bottom Line: There is no single food or exercise that targets and burns belly fat specifically. Fat loss happens across the entire body and can be achieved primarily through changes in diet, and then maintained with exercise. HIIT and MICT (such as jogging or using the elliptical) are both effective strategies for burning fat, so choose whichever one you enjoy the most. HIIT training may require less time to see results and therefore, may be a good option for individuals who do not want to spend as much time exercising each week.

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