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Q: What is the best way to get rid of belly fat?

Rebecca A. Feist, MA, ACSM-RCEP

A: Reducing excess visceral (belly) fat is essential for long-term health since it is linked to type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and some newer research even shows it as a risk factor for osteoporosis.

The best and only way to naturally reduce belly fat is through diet and exercise: limiting your caloric intake and exercising regularly being sure to include both cardio and strength training. Reduce calories by cutting out foods such as soda, fast food and alcohol. You can also add up all the calories you eat in a normal day and then work to eat 250 to 500 calories less per day. Then add cardio exercise: the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends activities that keep you moving such as biking, swimming, jogging or walking at least three and five days a week. If you typically exercise at a moderate intensity, include 60 minutes approximately five days a week. If your workout sessions are at a vigorous pace, include 30 minutes three days a week. A combination of moderate and vigorous exercise is encouraged. Finally, strength training will build muscle that will increase your metabolism. Lift weights that cause fatigue in 8 to 12 repetitions for each muscle group.

As people age, hormonal changes make belly fat control more difficult. Menopause, which causes a drop in estrogen, makes women especially prone to gaining visceral fat. Healthy habits and conscientiously working to maintain weight will help combat these risk factors.

Attempting spot reduction with sit-ups and abdominal exercises alone will not work to remove belly fat. While these exercises do build beneficial core strength, the muscle will still be covered by fat tissue. When you need energy, your body breaks down fat - but each person's genetics determine where that fat is taken from first. If you are naturally an apple shape, your body may get leaner everywhere else before your belly. Therefore, the only way to reduce this fat is to become leaner overall.

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