When you can't zip your skinny jeans with industrial-strength pliers, you know it's time to work off lower belly fat. Unfortunately, you can't control where your body stores fat. The only way to lose lower belly fat is by combining diet and exercise to reduce your overall body fat. Although doing abdominal exercises will not cause you to lose fat just from your lower-belly area, toning underlying muscles makes your belly firmer and more compact, helping you fit into your favorite outfits.
Types of Belly Fat
You actually have two types of fat, subcutaneous fat, which lies under your skin, and visceral fat, which accumulates around your internal organs in the abdominal area. While both look equally bad when you wear tight-fitting or revealing clothing, visceral belly fat is much worse for your health, being associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain cancers, according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Luckily, it's easier to lose visceral than subcutaneous fat. Even a moderate diet-and-exercise program can reduce fat-related health risks.
Losing Body Fat
The Mayo Clinic suggests that the best way to lose belly fat is a combination of diet and exercise, including at least two strength-training sessions and 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week. Reduce the amount you eat by 250 to 500 calories a day for safe and steady loss of 1 or 2 pounds a week. Avoid starvation and fad diets, as they may cause you to lose muscle or water rather than fat. Instead, eliminate junk foods, and emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and limited quantities of nuts, seeds and unsaturated and omega-3 fats.
Not everyone enjoys high-intensity exercise or can handle the joint stress from running or high-impact aerobic classes. Although you can burn more fat in an hour by running than by walking, the best exercise for your health is one you enjoy enough to do regularly. Cardiovascular exercises such as walking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, rowing, canoeing and swimming burn fat without causing high-impact stress on your bones and joints. You don't need to do long workouts in a gym to improve your health. You can get the 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by going for three 10-minute walks, playing 18 holes of golf walking rather than using a cart or peddling a stationary bicycle minutes while reading or watching your favorite television show at home.
Strength training helps you deal with lower belly fat in two ways. First, because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, as you gain muscle, you burn more calories even when you are sleeping. Second, building muscle reshapes your body, making you look better even as you strive to lose belly fat. To minimize the time and effort you need to invest in strength training, choose a small group of exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, such as squats, lunges, side lunges, pushups, dips and crunches. You only need to do one set of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise for basic fitness.
A study by the American Council on Exercise discovered which abdominal exercises are most effective for working both the rectus abdominis -- the long muscle running along the front of your stomach area -- and the obliques, which run along your waist. At the top of the list is the bicycle maneuver in which you lie on your back with your hands behind your head and touch your right elbow to your left knee and then your left elbow to your right knee. At the gym, position yourself on a captain's chair with your back against the backrest and your weight supported on your forearms. Lift your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor; twist your knees to one side as you raise your legs to emphasize the obliques. Doing situps or crunches on a stability ball is more effective than a bench or the floor, as you must use more muscles to balance on a ball than on a stable surface.
- Spine-Health.com: Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise
- Bodybuilding.com: Which Cardio Methods Melt Fat the Fastest?
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise Intensity: Why It Matters, How It's Measured
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- American Council on Exercise: Why Is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- Better Health Channel: Aerobics -- Preventing Injury
- MayoClinic.com: Belly Fat in Women: Taking -- and Keeping -- It Off
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- ExRx.net: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.