(Editor’s Note. This article is based on a piece that first appeared on a blog post sponsored by the Duke University Hospital. It can be found at Duke Health.Org. The article has been re-written for posting to The Sport Digest blog.)
Aerobic exercise is your best bet when it comes to losing that dreaded belly fat, a new study finds.
When Duke University Medical Center researchers conducted a head-to-head comparison of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and a combination of the two, they found aerobic exercise to be the most efficient and most effective way to lose the belly fat that’s most damaging to your health.
This isn’t the fat that lies just under your skin and causes the dreaded muffin top. Belly or abdominal fat — known in scientific communities as visceral fat and liver fat — is located deep within the abdominal cavity and fills the spaces between internal organs. It’s been associated with increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and certain kinds of cancer.
“When it comes to increased health risks, where fat is deposited in the body is more important than how much fat you have,” says Duke exercise physiologist Cris Slentz, PhD, lead author of the study published today in the American Journal of Physiology. Our study sought to identify the most effective form of exercise to get rid of that unhealthy fat.”
The Duke study showed aerobic training significantly reduced visceral fat and liver fat, the culprit in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Aerobic exercise also did a better job than resistance training at improving fasting insulin resistance, and reducing liver enzymes and fasting triglyceride levels. All are known risk factors for diabetes and heart disease .Resistance training achieved no significant reductions in visceral fat, liver fat, liver enzyme levels or improvements in insulin resistance.
The combination of aerobic with resistance training achieved results similar to aerobic training alone “Resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean body mass,” says Slentz. “But if you are overweight, which two-thirds of the population is, and you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the better choice because it burns more calories.” Aerobic training burned 67 percent more calories in the study when compared to resistance training. The eight-month study followed 196 overweight, sedentary adults (ages 18 to 70) who were randomized to one of three groups: aerobic training; resistance training or a combination of the two.
The aerobic group performed exercises equivalent to 12 miles of jogging per week at 80-percent maximum heart rate. The resistance group performed three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions three times per week. All programs were closely supervised and monitored to ensure maximum effort in participation while the training programs were rigorous and substantial.
Slentz says their previous research leads him to believe similar results could be achieved with a more moderate aerobic exercise program. “What really counts is how much exercise you do, how many miles you walk, and how many calories you burn,” he says. “If you choose to work at a lower aerobic intensity, it will simply take longer to burn the same amount of unhealthy fat.”
The study also found that aerobic exercise is more effective than resistance training in helping lose belly fat. While resistance training, such as weight lifting, will help you build up lean muscle mass, aerobic exercise was found to burn 67% more calories and effectively blast your tummy away. One great form of aerobic exercise is jogging, and whether you’re an experienced runner or just looking into starting a couch-to-5k program, here are some tips from America’s authority on fitness, the American Council on Exercise:
· Suit up to succeed. Before you start to pound the pavement, make sure to purchase a good pair of running shoes. The right pair of sneakers made for running can help prevent some of the most common running-related injuries, including shin splints, blisters, sore muscles and sore joints.
· Take the scenic route. Find a local park or trail where you feel comfortable jogging and know the area – running on grass, dirt or on a running track is easier on your joints than on asphalt and concrete. Make sure the location is well lit, out of the way of traffic and safe.
· Don’t overdo it. Develop a running program that spreads out over several weeks, where you can gradually build up your endurance and speed. Start with a 20 minute brisk walk/jog and work your way up. Here’s an example of a 12 week program from the American Council on Exercise.
· Always stretch before and after your run. Make sure to kick-off your exercise session with five minutes of low-intensity physical activity, i.e. walking, and dynamic-type stretches. End your workout with static stretches. This routine will help you reduce your chance for injury, among other benefits.
· Stay hydrated. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends drinking 500-600 ml (17-20 oz) of fluids two hours prior to exercise and 200-300 ml (7-10 oz) of fluids every 10-20 minutes during exercise. Also, drink plenty of water after you finish your run to ensure you rehydrate.
· Take a break. Take rest days in between run days. You can either take the day off, or engage in a lower intensity workout, such as going for a walk at a moderate or slow pace.
· No pain…no running. Do not try to “run through the pain,” as accommodating your running style to work around discomfort or pain can lead to excessive stress on your joints, muscles and connective tissues. Instead, refrain from exercising until the pain goes away.
Now that you have the key tips to start or improve your own running program, why not take advantage of the many great 5ks and marathons happening across the U.S. this fall? Selecting an event and working towards it can serve as a motivational tool to keep you running. Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis are among the major cities hosting their famous racing events for beginners and pros alike in the coming months; a quick internet search or call to your local runner’s club can provide more information on what races are happening in your area.