Controlling belly fat should be an important goal of your fitness routine.
If I were to ask you to think of a fat person, there’s a good chance you would form an image of someone with excess fat around the middle of their body. This area is commonly known as the belly or tummy, in medical circles it is usually referred to as the abdominal region, and among fitness professionals as the core.
It turns out there is good reason why we make this association. It is also the case that controlling the fat that accumulates in this region is vitally important for your health.
Abdominal or Belly Fat in Your Core
While the idea that body fat is most closely related to the shape of your abdominal region or core is stereotypical, it is not medically accurate. However, from a health and exercise point of view it is actually a good place to start.
There are three main types of fat in your body, sometimes referred to as, brown, beige and white fat cells:
- Triglycerides, the fat circulating in your blood that makes up almost all the fat cells in your body;
- subcutaneous fat contained in the layer located directly below the skin’s surface; and
- abdominal fat, commonly known as belly fat or more accurately as visceral fat, which surrounds your organs and your stomach and results in the rotund body shape that we commonly associate with ‘fat’.
It is not the existence of fat in the abdominal area that is the problem as this fat plays a role in good health. It is the existence of excess abdominal fat that is the problem.
Abdominal (visceral, belly) fat has been linked with many major health issues including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and an increased risk for certain cancers. In extreme cases, excess belly fat also inhibits normal daily movement and the ability to undertake exercises.
It is also closely associated with body image thereby opening up a range of associations with adverse psychological and social conditions. In summary, it is a big problem.
I have discussed some of the health problems associated with deep abdominal fat in this article. This fat is located deep in your body, but the truth is you can usually see if there is an issue: you will see the existence of fat around the middle of your body.
We typically have an adverse reaction in terms of desirable body image to excess belly fat and there is a real basis for this aversion. Belly fat is the most harmful form of fat in your body, although problems can certainly arise with the other types of fat also.
In this case, superficially desirable body image and good health advice coincide, within reason of course. However, our modern diets and lifestyles lead us to be particularly prone to developing this type of fat. And once in place, it can be difficult to remove.
Exercise and Abdominal Fat
Given this divergence between reality and what we both know to be good and intuitively see as desirable, the goal of developing a flat stomach (toned abs, a 6-pack, and so on) has become something of a holy grail in the fitness industry.
Before looking at how exercises can help in controlling abdominal fat, do not lose sight of two important realities.
First, by far the most important factor affecting the amount of belly fat in your body is your diet. I’m not going to go into any detail on diet in this article, but you’re wasting your time if you think that working out, no matter how much you do, will give you a flat stomach if you have a bad diet or simply do not control your food intake.
Certainly, exercising will make you fitter and will provide other health benefits, even with a bad diet. But exercise alone without diet control will not do it for you and is far from the complete answer for controlling belly fat.
Second, be realistic. You have a particular body shape as a result of your genes and your lifestyle if previous years since you were a young child. This is a given, not subject to change.
This is not a get out of jail card nor an excuse not to act to control your belly fat. You can still be the best and healthiest you can be, given this starting point.
But, be realistic. Your aim is to have as little excess abdominal fat as you can. You are not going to turn into an Instagram model, so don’t aim for what you cannot achieve.
Neither are you likely to drop 50% of your weight or look again as you did when you were eighteen. This is not possible and almost certainly not even desirable. Remember: fat is a good and natural substance in your body. It’s excess fat that’s bad.
Having said this, there are real benefits from doing exercises that are targeted at reducing your abdominal fat, not least that you will feel better about yourself.
Exercise and Controlling Belly Fat
There is no single exercise or exercise routine that burns just belly fat, or that even burns more belly fat that a different one. Both aerobic (endurance) exercise routines and strength (resistance) exercises will burn body fat.
Any exercise can help reduce overall body fat when done regularly in combination with a healthy diet. When you exercise you burn fat.
However, if your target is better abs (a flatter stomach), then your routine should include abdominal exercises, such as crunches or sit-ups, as they help build the muscles that help the belly appear flatter and more toned. These are good examples of exercises to do this, although they do not specifically burn belly fat.
Apart from the positive impact on body shape and body image, there are a number of health benefits that are associated with performing abdominal exercises.
Exercises that are focussed on the abdomen are an excellent way to burn calories in the body. A half hour of crunches, for example, can burn 300 calories. While a half hour of crunches would be a lot, any exercises that are focussed on working the abdominal muscles will burn considerable amounts of calories.
By strengthening the muscles in your abdominal cavity, core abdominal exercises are an effective way to improve your balance. They also improve flexibility allowing you to undertake a greater range of other exercises centred on both the upper and lower body.
Abdominal exercises are also important to improve posture. By doing so you will find that you can undertake daily activities more effectively. Furthermore, you are less likely to suffer from pain in the lower back or to incur back muscle injuries.
So make controlling belly fat a priority. Diet is important and sure to incorporate exercises targeted at your core into your workout.