Unfortunately, women tend to have a higher proportion of body fat to body weight as they age compared to men — and those extra pounds tend to settle in the abdominal area. Abdominal fat is of particular concern because it is composed of a type of fat called visceral fat. Compared to subcutaneous fat, which lies between the skin and muscle, visceral fat sits deep in the abdominal cavity between the organs.
Visceral fat has been linked to a number of diseases including breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease, which is the number one cause of death for both women and men in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just doing lower ab exercises alone won't budge your belly fat. Your diet plays the biggest role in reducing belly fat, but exercise is also key to banish the bulge.
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To get rid of lower belly fat, stay away from sugar and processed foods and do cardio and strength-training exercise.
Avoid Sugar and Sweetened Beverages
What you eat and drink are the largest contributors to your lower belly fat. Sugar, specifically, is one of the biggest culprits. Consuming excess sugar, especially fructose — one of the two primary components of added sugar in foods and beverages — triggers chronic inflammation in the body, which leads to a host of problems, including increased visceral fat, according to a 2017 research review in the journal Nutrients.
Sweetened beverages like soda, sweet tea, fruit juice, coffee drinks and even so-called healthy vitamin drinks are even worse than sugary foods because they provide no satiety — the sense of fullness that is key to controlling calories and losing fat.
To lose lower belly fat, you should first take aim at sugar in your diet. Instead of sweetened beverages, drink water or unsweetened tea. If you cut out that soda at lunch, you can reduce your daily calorie intake by up to 200 calories. You should also avoid cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream and other sweet treats, except for the occasional indulgence.
Sugar lurks in some unsuspecting places too. Flavored yogurts, cereal, dried fruit, instant oatmeal, and dressings and sauces can be high in sugar, so be sure to check food labels and ingredients lists.
Eat More Fiber
Unlike sugary beverages, fiber-rich foods are very satiating, as noted in a 2015 research review in Trends in Food Science & Technology. Fiber adds bulk to your foods and your body can only digest it minimally. That bulk stays in your stomach for a while and slows digestion of other foods in your meal so you retain that feeling of fullness longer after you eat. This can keep you from reaching for snacks between meals.
Also, high-fiber foods are often low in calories. Think kale, carrots, fresh berries and beets. Whole grains like brown rice, millet and oats, as well as beans, nuts and seeds, are also good sources of fiber and other nutrients.
In addition, fiber-rich foods promote healthy digestion and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Read more: How Do Women Get Rid of Belly Fat?
Skip Refined and Processed Foods
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommends that you make at least half the grains you eat each day whole grains; however, surpassing that goal will give you even greater benefits for beating lower belly fat.
Refined grains, such as white rice, white pasta and white bread, are simple carbohydrates, which are digested quickly into sugars. These sugars surge into your bloodstream causing extreme fluctuations in blood sugar, ups and downs that can lead to fatigue, moodiness and food cravings. The simple sugars from these foods differ very little from table sugar in the effect they have on your liver and the way your body stores fat.
Processed foods include anything that comes in a bag, box or can at the grocery store. Not all processed foods are bad for you; for example, quinoa comes in a bag, as do frozen vegetables. However, foods like refined-grain cereals, chips, frozen dinners, processed lunch meats, granola bars and microwave popcorn are often lower in nutrients than fresh foods and higher in fat, sugar and sodium.
Eat whole foods as much as possible. Skip fast foods and frozen dinners, and opt for a serving of lean protein and some veggies. When you do your shopping, stick mostly to the circumference of the grocery store, which is where the fresh foods are found.
Do Cardiovascular Exercise
Burning calories through exercise helps increase the calorie deficit you create from a calorie-controlled diet. When you're in a calorie deficit, your body has to dig into your fat stores for energy. Regular cardio exercise — at least 30 minutes a day — is necessary to maintain this deficit and flatten the lower stomach.
Any type of cardio exercise will help you burn calories; the key is to find something you like doing that you will do regularly. Walking, biking, rowing, aerobics classes, hiking, running, boxing and vigorous types of yoga can all help you burn calories.
While steady-state cardio, such as jogging at a continuous pace for 30 minutes, is great for burning calories and belly fat, adding in periods of more intense effort can increase the burn even more. In a 2016 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, participants who engaged in two high-intensity interval training classes per week, in addition to two days of conventional gym workouts, lost more visceral fat than participants who performed only conventional gym training four days a week.
You can take an interval training class or do interval training on your own. Hop on a treadmill, warm up for a few minutes; then increase the pace to run or walk at a pace that is very challenging for you that you could only sustain for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. After 30 seconds to 2 minutes, reduce your pace to a steady walk or jog to recover for 15 seconds to one minute. Repeat these intervals for the rest of your workout; then cool down.
Build Lean Muscle Mass
Cardio is excellent for burning belly fat, but you can give your body a boost by adding in resistance training. When you build muscle, your body expends a lot of energy. It also burns calories maintaining that muscle. Fat doesn't require such energy expenditure.
Having more lean muscle mass will increase your resting metabolism, which is the calories your body burns just to carry out physiological processes. According to Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico, lean muscle mass increases total daily energy expenditure by 20 percent, whereas fat only contributes about 5 percent.
Lower ab workouts are a good addition to your regimen, but they won't do much to flatten your lower stomach; you have to do some type of total-body resistance training. This could be lifting weights at the gym, taking a power yoga class, or doing calisthenics or any other type of training that taxes your muscles. Whatever activity you do, engage in it at least twice a week, more if possible.
Read more: The 3 Secrets to Losing Belly Fat
- Harvard Health Publishing: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Harvard Health Publishing: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- Nutrients: High Dietary Fructose: Direct or Indirect Dangerous Factors Disturbing Tissue and Organ Functions
- Physiological Behavior: Beverages Contribute Extra Calories to Meals and Daily Energy Intake in Overweight and Obese Women
- MedlinePlus: Calorie Count - Sodas and Energy Drinks
- WebMD: Surprising Sources of Hidden Sugar
- Trends in Food Science & Technology: Optimising Foods for Satiety
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar
- The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: Eight Weeks of a Combination of High Intensity Interval Training and Conventional Training Reduce Visceral Adiposity and Improve Physical Fitness: A Group-Based Intervention
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- Dietary Guidelines 2015 - 2020: Executive Summary