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30th January, 20215 min read

Exercises to lose belly fat

Medical reviewer:Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:Daniel Piggott
Last reviewed: 28/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

As well as eating a balanced diet, regular exercise is really important to support your overall health – and it can certainly help if you’re looking to lose belly fat and tone up.

Read on to learn why it’s a good idea to avoid carrying too much fat around the middle of your body and discover some exercises that are ideal for targeting belly fat.

Why is belly fat a problem?

Belly fat, or fat around your waist, can be a problem because it doesn’t just sit beneath your skin – it can be stored deep in your body, surrounding your internal organs. This kind of fat is known as ‘visceral fat’.

Studies have shown that having too much visceral fat around your belly can lead to an increased risk of several health conditions, including:

Some research also suggests that even if you’re considered a ‘healthy weight’ according to your BMI measurement, having too much belly fat may actually reduce your life expectancy.

So, it’s important to keep an eye on your belly fat. Measuring your waist can help: a waist measurement of 94cm or more for men (90cm or more for Asian men) or 80cm or more for women may suggest you should try to lose some weight.

The benefits of exercise for belly fat

A lifestyle that doesn't include much exercise can lead to excess belly fat, as you may end up eating more calories than you burn throughout the day. So doing some regular exercise can be an effective way to reduce belly fat.

However, keep in mind that ‘spot reduction’ probably doesn’t work – the idea that you can lose fat in a particular part of the body by exercising the muscles around it. For example, doing a tummy-strengthening exercise, such as a crunch, won’t specifically help you lose belly fat.

So, what is the best exercise to lose belly fat? Well, there’s a lot of conflicting information and research. So what’s most important is to choose something that you enjoy, so you won’t get bored and you’re more likely to keep doing it in the long term.

It’s recommended that we all do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise a week. However, you may find that you need to do more than this to help you lose belly fat. For example, you may need to do 45-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day if you’re not reducing the amount of calories you eat, too.

Ready to get started? Read on for more details about 3 good belly fat exercises to try.

1. Moderate-intensity or vigorous exercise

Moderate-intensity exercise is any exercise or activity that makes your heart beat faster and your breathing quicker. This includes things such as brisk walking, cycling and swimming.

More intense forms of exercise will make your heart beat rapidly and make you breathe so hard that you might find it difficult to talk. Running and most team sports count as intense, or vigorous, exercise.

If you’re not sure where to start, a doctor or weight-loss advisor can help you choose a suitable exercise for you, based on your fitness levels and circumstances.

2. Strengthening exercises

Strengthening exercises involve pushing, pulling, lifting or holding some sort of resistance, such as a weight or your own body weight, to help improve your strength. These sorts of exercises work your muscles and usually focus on different parts of your body. For example, a squat will help to strengthen your leg and bottom muscles.

Improving your muscle mass and strengthening your muscles can help maintain normal blood sugar levels, which is an important part of weight management and loss. It can also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

If you get pain or discomfort during or after strengthening exercises, you may not be doing the exercises correctly, or doing too much – it’s a good idea to build up slowly. If you find you still get pain after addressing these issues, speak to your doctor for advice.

3. High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves doing several short bursts of exercise at a high intensity, with a lower-intensity exercise or rest in between. HIIT can involve cardiovascular or strength exercises, or combination exercises – such as a ‘burpee’ (or squat thrust), which has a cardiovascular and strength element.

Because you’re working at a high intensity, doing HIIT may help you to burn calories and lose weight over a shorter period of time. However, as with all types of exercise, make sure you start slowly and gradually build up how often you do it and how long you do it for, so your body can adjust and you’ll reduce your chance of injury.

Regardless of the type of exercise you choose to help you lose belly fat, if you have any health conditions or are overweight or obese, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Key points

  • having too much belly fat can increase your risk of several health conditions
  • exercise is an effective way to lose belly fat, but ‘spot reduction’ probably doesn’t work
  • moderate-intensity, vigorous, strength and HIIT are all effective forms of exercise to lose belly fat
  • remember to slowly increase your frequency, intensity and duration of exercise over time to avoid injury
  • see your doctor before starting any exercises to lose belly fat if you have any health conditions or are overweight or obese
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