Getting a flat stomach is a common exercise goal, both for the health benefits of losing belly fat and the aesthetic pleasure of having a flat midsection. Some people think that abdominal exercises such as crunches and planks will help them lose weight around the stomach. Ab workouts will tone stomach muscles but won't help you get the flat stomach you desire; this can only be achieved through exercise that burns fat throughout the body.
The extra weight that you have around your midsection can be the result of several factors. Having underdeveloped abdominal muscles can result in a belly bulge, as can genetic factors that cause you to carry more weight around your midsection than other parts of the body. A large part of the bulge in your midsection may be comprised of two different types of fat, however; visceral fat is fat that surrounds the organs within the abdominal cavity itself, while subcutaneous fat is fat beneath the skin which lies on top of the abdominal muscles.
Abdominal exercises such as crunches will help to strengthen weak ab muscles for more definition. If you have subcutaneous fat over your abs, however, the definition you worked so hard to achieve won't show through. Similarly, abdominal definition won't do much to flatten your stomach if you have a large amount of visceral fat underneath the muscles. In some cases, you may even see an increase in abdominal thickness as your muscles grow larger underneath a layer of subcutaneous fat. To truly experience a reduction around your stomach, you'll likely need to lose weight in addition to toning your abs.
Cardio is Key
To flatten your stomach, you need to burn fat, and one of the best ways to burn fat is doing cardio-intensive aerobic exercise. Exercises such as running, swimming, cycling and jumping rope burn a large number of calories and are intense cardiovascular exercises. The American Heart Association recommends at least 75 to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week depending on exercise intensity to help you lose abdominal fat and maintain muscle mass. The American Council on Exercise recommends that these activity levels be doubled when trying to lose weight, though this can be broken down into 10-minute increments and still be effective. Two days of strength training exercises are also recommended to build lean muscle that increases your base metabolic rate and helps you burn more calories throughout the day. Consult your doctor or a certified trainer to assess your current fitness level and get advice on how to structure an exercise routine before increasing your activity level.
While it's possible to burn some fat and lose weight through exercise alone, you will be much more successful if you incorporate dietary changes into your weight loss plans as well. Changes to your diet should reduce the total number of calories you take in per day so that the body will begin burning fat to meet its caloric needs. It should not require sacrificing nutrition for the sake of weight loss, however. A healthy diet consists of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy options. Consult a registered dietitian or other nutrition professional for assistance in developing a reduced-calorie diet that fits your lifestyle and meets your nutritional needs.
Losing belly fat and toning the abs can produce a visually-appealing flat stomach, but there are other benefits. Researchers at the Harvard Medical Center have found that visceral fat produces a larger amount of the compound retinol-binding protein 4 than other types of fat cells. This compound promotes insulin resistance, increasing your chances of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Losing belly fat and especially visceral fat reduces the levels of RBP4 in your body, decreasing your chances of developing these problems. According to MayoClinic.com, losing visceral fat also reduces your chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea and even some types of cancer.
Born in West Virginia, Jack Gerard now lives in Kentucky. A writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience, he has written both articles and poetry for publication in magazines and online. A former nationally ranked sport fencer, Gerard also spent several years as a fencing coach and trainer.