Excess fat in your abdomen should not be dismissed as a natural part of aging. The middle-age spread and love handles increase your risk of developing chronic disease more so than other fat in your body. Losing weight is a gradual process, but the midbody fat tends to respond first to classic strategies of diet and exercise. The fastest way to shrink your belly and love handles is to commit to a lower-calorie diet full of whole, natural foods and a physically active lifestyle.
Belly Fat and Love Handle Concerns
An expanding belly means you're accumulating visceral fat, a particularly dangerous type of fat because it acts like its own endocrine organ. It packs in around your liver, kidneys and intestines as well as in the omentum, a flat, apron-shaped mass of tissue that covers the internal organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which lies just under the skin in areas such as the buttocks, thighs and arms and may have protective effects against diabetes, visceral fat releases hormones and chemicals that can cause your blood pressure to rise while increasing inflammation and metabolic disturbances. In short, visceral fat is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.
Men tend to develop visceral fat more readily than women, whose fat accumulates in the hips and thighs during child-bearing years. After menopause, however, women's waistbands often expand too.
Cardiovascular Exercise to Address Belly Fat
Exercise is the fastest way you can lose visceral fat in your belly and love handles. Rush University Medical Centers says that a physically active lifestyle is as close as you can come to a magical solution. For the most noticeable reduction in fat, specifically belly fat, commit to at least 250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. A brisk walk, swimming laps, hiking and gym cardio fit this category.
Once you feel comfortable with this amount of weekly exercise, consider making two or three of the sessions high-intensity and increasing their duration. A 2013 study in the International Journal of Cardiology found that 15 to 20 hours of exercise per week, much of it performed at a high intensity, expedited the loss of visceral fat over less intense and shorter durations of exercise. This level of exercise isn't appropriate for everyone, though, so check with your doctor before increasing your intensity and duration to such levels.
Strength Training and Other Movement
Strength training at least twice per week helps you preserve muscle mass as you lose weight. Target all the major muscle groups with at least one set of an exercise such as squats, pullups, pushups, lunges, presses and curls. Use a weight that feels heavy by the 10th or 12th repetition. As you progress, increase the heaviness of the weights and number of sets.
Simple movement during the day is also a fast track to the loss of belly fat and love handles. Fidget as you sit at your desk, get up to deliver messages to co-workers, use the stairs, pick a parking spot far out in the lot and walk at your lunch hour. When added to your formal exercise regime, these movements further increase your calorie burn so weight loss comes more quickly.
Revise Your Eating Habits to Lose Central Fat
Dietary revisions speed up the effects exercise has on your belly fat and love handles. Commit to a lower-calorie diet. A pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, so when your body burns that much off and doesn't replace it with more, you lose weight. Create the deficit with your exercise and increase it by choosing smaller portions of whole, unprocessed food.
Cutting out soda is one way to quickly eliminate unnecessary calories fast. Also, refusing refined grains -- such as in white bread, pasta, pizza and baked goods -- and avoiding foods high in saturated and trans fats helps you trim calories and shrink belly fat.
Choose white fish, egg whites, lean steak, skinless poultry and beans as examples of lean protein. Fill up on fibrous, watery vegetables; think broccoli, kale, lettuce, peppers, green beans and asparagus. A small serving of whole grains or starchy vegetables -- about 1/2 to 1 cup of either -- rounds out your meals. If you find yourself hungry between meals, resist the chips, snack mixes and energy bars. Go instead for a piece of fresh fruit, an ounce of nuts or plain yogurt with berries and a teaspoon of honey.
Lifestyle Alterations Bring Fast Change
Quit smoking and reduce stress to help you target belly fat and love handles for loss. Stress can cause you to make poor food choices, overeat and release a hormone called cortisol, which makes your body more likely to put on fat in your midsection. Adequate sleep, more than five hours per night and less than nine, correlates with slimmer bellies in people under age 40, according to a study published in a 2010 edition of Sleep.
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- American Council on Exercise: 6 Strategies for Losing the Spare Tire
- Rush University Medical Center: Is There 'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- International Journal of Cardiology: Different Modalities of Exercise to Reduce Visceral Fat Mass and Cardiovascular Risk in Metabolic Syndrome: The RESOLVE Randomized Trial
- Sleep: Sleep Duration and Five-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study.