If you hate the treadmill, we've got good news for you: Minute per minute, weight training fights belly fat better than cardio does, according to new research published in Obesity.
For the study, researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) examined the physical activity, waist circumference, and body weight of 10,500 healthy men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study from 1996 to 2008.
Over the study's 12 years, the guys who spent 20 minutes a day weight training (lifting free weights, working on weight machines, and performing body-weight strength moves) had a smaller increase in age-related abdominal fat compared with men who completed moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise for the same amount of time—even though those who performed aerobic exercise actually lost more weight than the lifters did.
That's right: Weight training is the trick when it comes to losing belly fat. Unlike aerobic exercise, which burns both fat and muscle, weight lifting burns fat while building muscle, says lead author Rania Mekary, PhD, a researcher with the HSPH. That's a vital combination when it comes to blasting belly fat, which tends to increase with age and is linked to diabetes and heart disease. "Weight training reverses exactly what happens as we age—losing muscle mass and gaining fat," she says.
Plus, by increasing your metabolic rate in both the 48 hours after exercise and over the long term, weight training does a double whammy on belly fat, she says. And as women's bodies naturally have less muscle and more fat compared to men's, strength training may be even more important for keeping female bellies flat.
Still, that doesn't mean you should skip the treadmill altogether, says Mekary, who notes that the study participants who combined aerobic and strength training enjoyed the best results.
Her best advice on how to lose belly fat? Perform aerobic exercises like running, biking, or swimming one to two times a week, and resistance train at least three times a week. (Each session only needs to be 25 minutes, including a post-workout stretch.)
And as far as the weight training exercises you need to hit, just mix it up so that you hit all of your major muscle groups each week, says Mekary. If you want to perform total-body circuits every day or would rather schedule a leg day, arm day, and core day, it's up to you.