The Best Way to Beat Belly Flab
Smart Habits That Will Slim Your StomachStart working out.
Regular heart-pumping exercise is one of the most effective ways to get fat off your middle. "Diet alone may reduce your weight, but it probably won't change your body's shape the way exercise can," says Tongjian You, PhD, now an assistant professor in exercise and nutrition sciences at SUNY Buffalo and lead researcher for the groundbreaking Wake Forest study on fat-cell size. "Abdominal fat may be more active and responsive to exercise than fat in other areas," he says. So get moving!Start eating healthy fats.
To lose flab around your middle, you don't have to cut every bit of fat out of your diet. The key is to get about 30 percent of your daily calories from fat, primarily heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which could help you live longer (plus, you'll be less likely to crave the unhealthy kinds). New research from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study found that women who ate a diet rich in healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts, slashed their risk of heart disease -- the number-one killer of women -- by as much as 33 percent. Try adding some almonds to your afternoon yogurt and cook with olive oil as often as possible.Start getting at least seven hours of shut-eye a night.
James Gangwisch, PhD, a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center, has the most compelling lights-out research we've heard. In his review of thousands of women, he found that those who slept five hours a night were almost twice as likely to be obese as women who got seven hours. Studies show that lack of sleep can make you hungrier -- it knocks the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin out of whack, so you crave sweet, salty snacks. And it can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may be associated with abdominal fat.Start playing your cards right.
"Think of your genes as the hand you're dealt in a game of poker," says Dr. Hensrud. "It may not be as good as you'd like, but it's how you play that matters." This is particularly true if you're apple shaped (meaning that you store fat around your abdomen) rather than pear shaped (fat goes to your hips and thighs first). "For optimal health, we should all eat less junk food, exercise regularly, drink in moderation, and not smoke," says Dr. Hensrud. "But these steps are even more important for people who are apple shaped, because they are at increased risk of diabetes and heart disease." By staying at a healthy weight and keeping your waist size well under 35 inches earlier in life, you're setting yourself up to stay trim as you get older, when your risk for developing many diseases increases.Start loving your body.
Research shows that when women feel bad about their weight and themselves, they're more likely to give up on their diet goals and eat too much. So do things that make you feel good -- and that are good for you. Take a walk. Treat yourself to a massage. Before you know it, that extra ab flab will be nothing but a fleeting memory.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2007.
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