I get that question more often than any other in the Oasis. Not how can I improve my health? Or what is the best exercise to strengthen my body?
Belly fat comes in two places: There’s the stuff right under your skin that you can pinch (ugh), called subcutaneous fat. But that’s actually the less harmful kind. It’s visceral fat that poses a real threat to your health. It plumps your middle from the inside out, surrounding organs such as your liver, lungs, and heart—and putting you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, says Kristen Gill Hairston, M.D., an endocrinologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC.
Visceral fat gets worse for all of us as we get older, especially if we’re under a lot of stress or not sleeping well, says nutritionist Sara Vance, author of The Perfect Metabolism Plan. That’s thanks to hormones that make us hungrier even as our bodies are practically hoarding fat.
Lack of exercise adds to the belly fat problem. Sit-ups may build and strengthen your abdominal muscles, but the real winner is….. Walking: At 11 miles a week, it made no difference whether people in the study walked or jogged, “It’s not the intensity of the exercise that matters,” Cris Slentz, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC says. “It’s the amount.” And you can break it up into 10 or 15 minute increments. Start slow and easy and then work your way up to 15 miles a week over six weeks or more to reduce belly fat. Another simple exercise to flatten your tummy is Core Compressions: Sit tall in a chair with your feet hip-width apart and your belly flattened toward your spine. Place one hand on your upper abs and the other on your lower. Take a deep breath in, then exhale forcefully to draw your abdominal muscles in even tighter, keeping your back straight and still. Continue for five minutes, focusing on slow, complete tightening of the muscles. Do two sets.
Diet: It’s low-carb, but don’t let that put you off. “Too many carbohydrates spike your blood sugar,” Vance says. Your body converts that glucose into energy or stores it as fat. “When you take those carbs away, it has to get energy somewhere, so it starts burning fat.” The good carbs: Instead of simple carbohydrates (like baked goods or chips), reach for complex carbs. Generally, vegetables are the lowest in grams, followed by beans and legumes, fruits, and whole grains. Stick to 30 grams or fewer at a sitting to avoid spiking your blood sugar.
Patience: Be patient with yourself. That extra tummy fluff didn’t happen overnight and it will take more than a week to go away. As you improve your walking stamina and develop healthier eating habits: Pounds and inches will fall away and strength, balance, stamina and energy levels will improve.