Some people gain fat around the middle and are apple-shaped. Others pack it onto their lower body and are pear-shaped. If you're the latter, you may take solace from the fact that pear-shaped people are at lower risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease than the apple-shaped. Still, trade that fat for lean muscle mass, which makes the body a more efficient calorie-burning machine, and you'll be on your way.
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While you can't change your basic shape, you can at least become a slimmer pear by shedding excess fat from your hips, thighs and buttocks. The key to a narrower lower body: lose pounds with diet and cardio while toning your pillowy areas with resistance training.
Here's how to get started.
Read more: The Best Calf-Toning Exercises
Your first instinct may be to get on a stair machine and work those thigh and glute muscles til you drop. There's a place for that, but it's important to have exercise in the right perspective. According to the National Weight Control Registry, it takes 60 minutes of daily exercise just to maintain a healthy body weight, and considerably more to lose weight.
Still, you can maximize the return on your effort by choosing cardio workouts that emphasize the lower body. Gym machines like the stair climber, elliptical or treadmill activate your glutes and thigh muscles while revving up your heart rate.
Turbocharge your weight loss with High Intensity Interval Training. This method of cardio training, which involves interspersing short bursts of high intensity effort with longer spaces of rest or lower activity creates an after-burn effect that revs up your metabolism for extra calorie-burning.
Firming Up with Exercise
While you can't spot reduce, you can indeed sculpt and shape your lower body with resistance training. Begin with exercises that use your own body weight for resistance. In a few weeks, you can ramp it up by adding weights. Here are a few exercises to get you started.
Lunges belong at the top of any list of exercises for sculpting lower body muscles. They activate the glute muscles that form your but and hips, as well your thigh muscles. To do them, stand with your arms at your sides and your thighs touching. Bring your right leg 2 to 3 feet forward while allowing both of your knees to bend as you lower your body into the lunge position with each knee at a 90-degree angle. Push back to standing position and repeat with the other foot.
The Skinny on Fat
Getting rid of fat is mostly a matter of cutting calories; you've got to burn 3500 more calories than you take in to lose a pound. The National Institutes of Health recommends about 2 pounds weekly as the maximum safe rate of weight loss, so create a calorie deficit of 250 to 500 calories daily and you'll make steady progress. That's really just a few slices of bread or dessert.
A lean diet that emphasizes whole grains and tons of vegetables while limiting fats and oils will never let you down. Avoid simple starches like white bread, sugary drinks and french fries, which encourage weight gain. Boosting your intake of non-starchy fruits and vegetables — without even cutting calories — promotes weight loss, according to a 24-year meta-analysis of American dietary habits published in a 2015 edition of the journal, PLoS Medicine.
Read more: Diet and Exercise for Toning Butt & Thighs