Ready to fight back against belly fat with cardio? Running and cycling both melt calories and build lean muscle mass, expediting weight loss while building a faster metabolism for maintenance. For pure calorie-burning power, running wins out. However, neither activity works directly on belly fat; in fact, no exercise does. Losing weight all over is the only way to shrink that tummy. That's why your running or cycling routine requires the support of a healthy eating plan.
Running is one of the most efficient calorie-burning activities out there. It's also one of the most intensive, and you may not be able to sustain it for long if you're out of shape now. In addition to shredding calories fast, running increases lung capacity and cardiovascular efficiency. It's important to use shoes made specifically for running, since the high impact can be hard on feet and joints. In addition, beginners need to ease slowly into new running routines; over-zealousness can increase the risk of injury.
Cycling is zero-impact, and can be used as a transportation mode as well as exercise. You can reach a faster pace than you ever will running, but you won't burn as many calories. Since cycling is also aerobic, you'll enjoy improved lung and cardiovascular function. To prevent injury, choose a bike that's appropriate for your terrain, adjusting the seat to match your height. Don't even think about hitting the streets without a helmet on, and wear bright clothing so that drivers can see you.
Running at 5 mph torches 606 calories per hour if you weigh 160 pounds. Cycling at 10 mph burns just 292 calories per hour at the same weight, says MayoClinic.com. So running will burn more fat in most situations. However, you won't burn the calories if you can't maintain speed; it may be necessary to alternate walking and running intervals while you build endurance. In addition, you can maximize your calorie burning on a bike by heading uphill, or by adjusting the difficulty level on a stationary bike. Ultimately, the best exercise is the one that you enjoy enough to stick with.
No matter which exercise you pick, dietary choices matter -- a lot. For weight loss, Mayo Clinic recommends that women eat 1,200 calories a day. This doesn't mean skimping on nutrients, though. Choose plenty of fresh produce, which has filling fiber and water for lasting satiety. Get your carbs from minimally-processed foods such as wild rice and sprouted-grain bread, and your proteins from low-fat sources like tofu and egg whites.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.