Any aerobic activity performed at a high enough intensity for a long enough period of time will help you burn belly fat. That includes running, cycling, swimming, rowing and even dancing.
Running and cycling are two of the best when it comes to calorie-burning needed for fat loss; each burns approximately 600 calories per hour, though that number depends on several different variables including your pace, the length of your workout and your body weight. Your diet plays a large role in how much belly fat you'll lose.
Belly Fat Basics
Burning belly fat is just like burning fat in any other area of your body. You need to balance the number of calories you eat with the number of calories you burn each day to create a calorie deficit. This is a rather complicated calculation, but as long as you're performing regular cardiovascular exercise and eating a healthy calorie-controlled diet, chances are good that you'll lose fat from your belly and the rest of your body, too.
You can only roughly estimate how long it will take you to lose fat based on the calorie deficit you create. One pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories. You can lose 2 pounds of fat per week by creating a daily calorie deficit of 1,000 calories. Remember that this fat loss will be from your entire body, not just your belly.
What Determines Calorie Burn
Several factors determine how many calories you'll burn (and how much belly fat you'll lose) with a regular running or cycling routine. Typically the faster you run or cycle, the more calories you'll burn, and biking or running on hilly terrain burns more calories than doing those activities on flat terrain. Your weight also plays a role -- the heavier you are the more calories you'll burn.
It's more difficult to measure calories burned on hilly terrain because it's so variable; estimates for different weights and speeds are more accurate:
Running at an easy pace of 5 miles per hour or cycling at an equivalent pace of 12 to 13.9 miles per hour: You'll burn 240 calories in 30 minutes if you weigh 125 pounds, 298 calories in 30 minutes if you weigh 155 pounds, and 355 calories if you weigh 185 pounds.
Running at a moderate pace of 6 miles per hour or biking at an equivalent pace of 14 to 15.9 miles per hour: You'll burn 300 calories in 30 minutes if you weigh 125 pounds, 372 calories in 30 minutes if you weigh 155 pounds, and 444 calories if you weigh 185 pounds.
At a faster pace of 7.5 miles per hour running or 16 to 19 miles per hour cycling: There is a slight difference in calorie burn, but not enough to make much of a difference. If you weigh 125 pounds, you'll burn 375 calories running or 360 calories biking for 30 minutes; if you weigh 155 pounds you'll burn 465 calories running and 446 calories cycling for 30 minutes; and if you weigh 185 pounds, you'll burn 555 calories running and 553 calories cycling.
Read more: The Best Cardio Exercise to Lose Belly Fat
HIIT for Belly Fat Loss
You can go out and cycle or run for 30 minutes a day and, assuming you eat a healthy diet, you'll see improvements in your waistline. But there may be a better way. According to a review of research published in Journal of Obesity in 2011, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is more effective at reducing total body fat and abdominal fat specifically than steady state cardio.
For this reason, it's a good idea to change up your workout every few days to incorporate HIIT. It's easy to do. Simply warm up at an easy pace, then break into a sprint. Run or peddle as fast as you can for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, depending on your fitness level. Then, slow it down to an easy pace and recover for the same amount of time you sprinted. Continue to alternate sprinting with recovery for the duration of your workout.
HIIT workouts are typically shorter than steady state workouts because they burn more calories and are more intense. Twenty to 30 minutes is a good goal. Because HIIT is intense it's harder on your muscles, joints and ligaments than other types of cardio, so start with one HIIT session a week. As you become fitter, you can do two such workouts per week.
Eat Right or Else
No explanation of effective belly fat loss is complete without addressing your diet. You will not lose belly fat if you are eating a lot of fatty, sugary, processed junk foods, no matter how much you cycle or run. You have to eat healthy foods in healthy proportions to see significant belly fat loss.
A healthy diet is composed of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, small portions of lean meat or fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products. Nuts, seeds and vegetable oils are healthy additions but high in calories -- consume them in moderation. Save sweets and sweetened beverages for special occasions and treats.
Read more: The 3 Secrets to Losing Belly Fat