Being overweight or obese isn’t just about the waistline and appearance, having excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area, is harmful to your health. Belly fat increases the risk of various diseases; which is something all of us want to prevent. As you already know, getting rid of abdominal fat can be quite tricky. It’s not uncommon for people who lose weight successfully, but still, have problems toning their stomach because of belly fat that is difficult to eliminate. Abdominal exercises are very popular nowadays, and they promise to help you burn fat at a rapid rate. But, how do these exercises work on your belly fat? Let’s see!
Two types of abdominal fat
First, it is important to bear in mind that not all abdominal fat is created equal and we can divide it into two types:
- Subcutaneous fat – the type of fat you can pinch because it is located right under your skin, or more precisely, between skin and muscles
- Visceral fat – located in the abdominal cavity around the internal organs. This type of fat is associated with metabolic syndrome and other negative health outcomes.
Can abdominal exercises burn fat?
Physical activity plays an important role in fat loss. After all, to burn fat you have to burn more calories than you consume through food. Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions about this subject. For example, most people assume they can treat themselves with some unhealthy food option just because they exercise regularly. Burning fat effectively requires the synergy of physical activity and proper nutrition.
When it comes to abdominal exercises, the reason you do them is that you want to lose belly fat. This is referred to as spot reduction, and some evidence suggests it may not be as effective as you’d like it to be. For example, one research followed 24 participants who did ab exercises five days a week for six weeks. In the end, scientists found that this training alone didn’t reduce subcutaneous body fat. That said, ab training improved muscular endurance.
Moreover, another study analyzed the impact of a 27-day sit up the program on subcutaneous fat and the adipose cell size. Researchers discovered that the conventional sit-up exercise does not reduce adipose cell size or thickness of subcutaneous fat in the abdominal region.
Abdominal exercises are ineffective…not so fast!
While some studies, as seen above, found that abdominal exercises do not have a meaningful effect on abdominal fat, some beg to differ. To evaluate the possibility of spot reduction, one study sought to determine whether it worked for arm fat, which is also difficult to get rid of. Scientists found the exercise in the specific area decreased the fat thickness. This also gives the glimpse of hope that fat in the abdominal area can be reduced with strong willpower, consistency, and regular, persistent training.
That’s not all; another study made the even more promising discovery. Scientists found that regardless of the intensity of exercise, blood flow and breakdown of fat were always higher in subcutaneous fat that was close to active muscles.
Therefore, to lose fat in the abdominal area, it is necessary to do exercises that target the specific group of abdominal muscles and activate them.
Of course, the best way to reduce total abdominal fat, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat is to engage in high-intensity exercise training.
When it comes to losing belly fat, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in the abdominal exercise basket. As mentioned already, diet and exercise go hand in hand. Here’s why; losing fat requires an energy deficit. Basically, your body has to “realize” that it didn’t use enough caloric currency to pay for daily efforts; which is why it has to use stored fat — the greater this deficit, the bigger the weight loss. If you don’t pay attention to your diet and focus on exercise only, you’ll get stuck in a vicious circle of consuming too many calories and trying to burn them off in the gym. That’s why nutrition + physical activity result in weight loss and help you lose fat in the abdominal region as well as in entire body.
For example, an effective long-term strategy of burning fat is consuming more protein. One study found that the amount and quality of protein consumed are inversely related to the belly fat. In other words, those who eat more protein have less belly fat. When it comes to diet modifications, you should also:
- Avoid sugar intake and sugar-sweetened beverages
- Cut Carbs
- Avoid alcohol intake
- Consume fiber-rich foods, particularly viscous fiber
- Increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole foods, and fish
- Reduce consumption of saturated and trans fats
- Limit or avoid intake of heavily processed and refined foods and meats
Excess fat in the abdominal region poses a threat to one’s health, and it is needless to mention that people feel subconscious about their appearance. When it comes to losing belly fat with abdominal exercises only, the evidence is inconclusive. While some studies point out, it’s possible to lose fat in a specific area only, others disagree. One thing is for sure, though; increasing physical activity levels along with making healthier diet choices do lead to a successful fat loss in your abdominal area.