At one point in your life, you might have had a flat stomach and small waist without even trying. As you've gotten older, though, physiology and a hectic schedule with limited time for exercise or eating healthy have taken their toll and led to your widening waistline — but all is not lost.
A calorie-controlled, nutritious diet, regular cardio exercise and strength training can help you get back the flat belly and small waistline of your younger years.
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Be Realistic About Your Body Shape
First things first, determine realistic goals for yourself. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and some people will never have a teeny, tiny waist, no matter how hard they try. If you naturally have a larger build or an apple-shaped physique — one that is wider around the waistline — an hourglass figure may not be within reach.
However, anyone, regardless of their shape, can achieve a healthy weight and a trim and toned midsection. Rather than "flat and small," your goals should be fat loss and muscle gain.
The Foundation Is a Healthy Diet
You can do hours of cardio at the gym, but if you're eating junk food and going over your caloric needs for the day on a regular basis, you're not going to lose belly fat.
First, determine the number of calories you need to consume each day for weight loss. This is a highly individualized number dependent on your age, sex, current weight and activity level; however, the average woman needs to consume around 1,500 calories per day to lose weight, while the average man needs approximately 2,000 calories daily.
You may need more or less than that amount; the key is to be in a caloric deficit, meaning you take in fewer calories each day than you consume.
A healthy weight-loss diet focuses primarily on fresh vegetables and fruit, with smaller amounts of lean meat and fish, or other protein sources such as tofu and beans, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives and whole grains.
Healthy fats from vegetable oils and nuts and seeds should be consumed in moderation. Sweets and sugary beverages should be completely off the menu, or reserved for infrequent treats.
Read more: 10 Foods to Avoid for a Flat Belly
Burn It off With Cardiovascular Exercise
Regular cardiovascular exercise keeps your heart, lungs and other organs healthy and high-functioning and it also is key to burning fat around your midsection — and all over your body.
Balance your reduced-calorie diet with bike riding, jogging, dancing, swimming or any other activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat. According to Harvard Health Publications, you can burn 223 calories swimming or 335 calories on the elliptical machine in 30 minutes if you weigh 155 pounds.
Heavier people will burn more, while lighter people will burn less. Aim to do some sort of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week to really see results around your waistline.
Fire Up Your Metabolism by Building Muscle
Spot-reduction is a myth. You can do ab exercises all day long, but you won't have a flat stomach and a small waist if there's a big layer of fat on top. And, if you only do ab exercises, you're missing out on building total-body muscle mass which helps rev your metabolism.
The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you'll burn even when you're at rest. Engage in total-body strength training, with or without weights, two to three days a week.
Do push-ups, squats, lunges, deadlifts, pull-ups, rows, lat pulldowns and chest and shoulder presses, as well as exercises for your core — your lower back, obliques and abs — such as bicycles and supermans.
To kill two birds with one stone, do a high-intensity circuit training routine to build muscle and burn calories at the same time. The key here is to rest very little between sets and keep your heart rate elevated. Work in some plyometric exercises such as jump squats and burpees to really feel the burn.
Read more: The 3 Secrets to Losing Belly Fat