If you long for a tiny waistline but can't stand the gym, you're in for pleasant news: While exercise helps keep your weight in check, it doesn't automatically lead to a trimmer midsection. In fact, the best way to shrink your belly is by losing fat all over, and your food choices impact fat loss more than working out. That said, you're not completely off the hook -- all women need some exercise for shapely muscle tone and optimal health.
Reduce calorie intake. To determine calorie needs for weight loss, Harvard Medical School recommends first multiplying your weight times the number 15 to estimated daily usage; so at 140 pounds, you expend about 2,100 calories per day. Next subtract 500 from that number -- you'd get 1,600 in the example -- and eat that number of calories to lose about a pound per week. Whatever your calculations, don't eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day or you may miss out on important nutrients.
Meditate to reduce stress. When work, relationship woes and weight-related anxiety set in, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which prompts visceral fat storage deep in your abdomen. Visceral fat is linked to heart disease and breast cancer, so help knock it out with deep breathing exercises or a guided mediation CD.
Reduce sodium intake. When you retain an extra 400 milligrams of sodium -- just 1 gram of table salt -- you gain about 2 pounds of transient water weight, according to Dr. Jack D. Osman of Towson University. To avoid the bloat, consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium or less per day. This means avoiding most processed and restaurant-prepared meals; read nutrition labels to learn the sodium content of the foods you eat.
Perform 150 minutes of moderate cardio, or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio, each week to speed up calorie burning. That's the minimum amount prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and works out to just 15 to 30 minutes per day, five days per week -- not too much to ask for such powerful weight-control benefits. Moderate cardio includes walking quickly and performing water aerobics; vigorous cardio includes jogging and swimming the breast stroke.
Perform the bicycle maneuver twice weekly. Garnering top ranking in a study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise, this move will tone your abs for beautiful definition. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head. Lift your legs so your knees are at 45-degree angles, then bring your left elbow and your right knee toward each other until they touch. Return to the starting position, repeat with the opposite knee and elbow, and continue alternating legs in a nonstop pedaling motion until you've completed 12 repetitions for each leg. Rest and repeat for three sets total.
- Harvard Health Publications: Calorie Counting Made Easy
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- The Wellness Corner: Salt, Sodium, and High Blood Pressure
- MedlinePlus: Sodium in Diet
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- American Council on Exercise: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
- See your doctor before starting a new weight-loss program, especially if you have any medical conditions.
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.