Exercise and belly fat

Packing on pounds around your midsection is easy. Losing them takes a lot more work. Here’s the latest evidence on what (and what not) to do.

Sitting & belly fat

The time you spend in a chair, on the sofa, or in a car may affect the size of your belly.

Scientists did MRI scans of 124 people at risk for type 2 diabetes.1 Each wore an accelerometer for a week.

Among those who were inactive (they averaged 13 minutes a day of at least moderate-intensity exercise), each hour of sedentary time per day was linked to an extra 1.9 quarts of abdominal fat. But sedentary time wasn’t linked to belly fat in people who were active (they averaged 40 minutes a day).

This type of study, on its own, can’t prove that sitting on the couch boosts belly fat, but it’s one more reason to get out of your seat.

How to trim bad belly fat

Israeli researchers randomly assigned 278 sedentary adults (mostly men) with oversized waists or high triglycerides and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol to one of two diets with equal calories—low-carb Mediter­ranean or low-fat—for 1½ years.2

For the last year, half were also assigned to an exercise program (45 minutes of aerobic plus 15 minutes of strength training) three days a week.

The low-carb Mediterranean group was told to eat more vegetables, beans, poultry, and fish instead of beef and lamb. And they were given an ounce of walnuts to eat each day. Their carb limit was 40 grams a day for two months, and up to 70 grams a day thereafter.

The low-fat group was told to eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, and to cut back on sweets and high-fat snacks.

Each group was served either a low-carb Mediterranean or a low-fat lunch—the main meal of the day in Israel—at work.

After 1½ years, both groups had lost about six pounds. But the exercisers lost more deep belly (visceral) fat, the worst kind, no matter which diet they ate. And waist size, triglycerides, and liver fat fell more in the low-carb Mediterranean group, whether they exercised or not.

What to do

To shrink belly fat, get off the couch! To lower triglycerides and liver fat, replace some carbs with nuts, fish, and other unsaturated fats.


1 Obesity 26: 29, 2018.
2 Circulation 2017. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.030501.

Ilustration: © Dennis Cox/fotolia.com
Photo: © Africa Studio/stock.adobe.com

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3 Replies to “Exercise and belly fat”

  1. Thank you for passing on this study report re the comparison diets and exercise results for visceral fat loss.
    Do you have an annual (not monthly) subscription of condensed findings. If available, at what price?

  2. Looking for some research on belly fat and post-menopausal women. Most of us gain around the waist but do not necessarily fit the profile of sedentary, high carb eating individuals. In my case, I belong to a very active, competitive rowing club and eat a very healthy, DASH-style diet. I have not changed my exercise and diet routines since before menopause, but have gained 15 pounds in weight and most of it around the middle. Most post menopausal active women I know have noticed the same. Health risks? I have already concluded that there is not a whole lot we can do to change the results.

    1. I hear you Kathy. I share your frustration. I too put on weight after menopause and yet eat a healthy diet and regularly exercise.

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