Unfortunately, your stomach is often one of the first places you gain weight and one of the last places you'll lose it. Belly fat is not only bad for the beach; it's downright dangerous. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension revealed that "A larger waist measurement predicts the development of high blood pressure, regardless of total body fat." Other studies have found that visceral stomach fat (versus the subcutaneous fat that you can pinch) is linked to higher total cholesterol, insulin resistance, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. It's time to get serious about losing the spare tire around your waist—not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for your long-term health. And with just a few more weeks until beach season is here, there's no better time to start shredding that fat so that you can reveal a flat, defined, sexy stomach.
A healthy diet—full of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats (like avocado and olive oil)—is critical to getting a flat stomach. Ever heard the phrase "your abs are made in the kitchen"? It's true. This, coupled with the Harvard Women's Health Watch recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day, is the key to getting a flat tummy.
If seeing a flat stomach comes down to reducing your body fat through healthy diet and exercise, then why bother doing ab-specific exercises? One good reason is that "ab exercises" also strengthen your core, and a strong core can improve your posture and make you less prone to injury. Another is that the abs—like your biceps—are muscles. They're comprised of 6 different muscles: the transverse abdominal that wraps around your torso, the internal and external obliques (one of each on each side), and the rectus abdominis (see the diagram). The rectus abdominis is the "six-pack" muscle. But strengthening all of them is important. Doing exercises that target these will strengthen them so they appear defined when your body fat percentage is low enough for them to be visible. With that in mind, here are 7 of my favorite ab-sculpting moves.
- Ditch the refined sugar! It may look good and taste good, but refined carbohydrates and sugars wreak havoc on your midsection. It's OK to have a treat once in a while, but try to keep these waistline killers to a minimum.
- Stand up straight: The more you slouch, the more your stomach pooches. According to WebMD®, you should "align your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles. Keep the fronts of the shoulders open like a shirt on a hanger. Draw your navel to your spine and keep your weight even on the balls and heels." This posture will help you look much leaner and, over time, this isometric contraction of your abs will help strengthen them.
- HIIT Training: Engage in High Intensity Interval Training (also known as HIIT) and you can see more results in less time! This type of exercise, done in short bursts with brief recovery periods between sets, can help spike your metabolism so you burn calories for hours after you're done working out.
- Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut-eye can help you get the flat tummy of your dreams. When you skimp on shut-eye, your body undergoes physiological stress, which causes your body to store fat. Strive to get 8 or more hours every single night. Scientific American reports that "even short-term, partial sleep deprivation could pave the way for weight gain and other negative metabolic consequences."
- Reduce Stress: Stress can be good or bad depending on how we deal with it. We need stress to change and progress, but too much of it can cause our bodies to enter a "fight-or-flight" biochemical process. According to WebMD, this makes "our bodies store fuel, slow down metabolism, and dump out chemicals [such as the stress hormone cortisol] which are more likely to cause . . . obesity in the abdominal region." When we're stressed, we also tend to reach for comfort foods. If you lower your stress levels (through time management, yoga, meditation), you won't need to self-medicate with food and your hormone levels will be much healthier.
- "Abdominal Fat and What to do About it." Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Medical School. Web. 26 March 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it.htm
- Harmon, Katherine. "How Slight Sleep Deprivation Could Add Extra Pounds." Scientific American. 24 October 2012. Web. 25 March 2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=sleep-deprivation-obesity
- Sarnataro, Barbara Russi. "6 Tips for Flat Abs." WebMd. Web. 25 March 2013. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/6-tips-flat-abs
- Zelman, Kathleen M., MPH, RD, LD. "Five Surprising Reasons You're Gaining Weight." WebMD. Web. 25 March 2013. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/6-tips-flat-abs