Having big hips has its benefits. You can easily carry children — or laundry baskets. You don't need to use your hands to close ovens, cabinets or drawers. And you can hula hoop like nobody's business.
You may be healthier too, according to research published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2010, which states that women who have fat deposits on their hips, butts and thighs have lower cardiovascular and metabolic risks compared to women who tend to store fat around their waistlines. So there's that.
But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Although hip size is largely determined by genetics, burning excess fat with cardio can help. Any type of regular cardio routine is effective. Some types may work faster and save you time — for more hula hooping, perhaps.
Ultimately, any type of cardio exercise will be helpful for slimming your hips, as long as you keep at it consistently and adopt (or maintain) healthy eating habits.
The Spot-Reduction Myth
There's no type of cardio that specifically targets your hips. It just doesn't work that way. Cardio helps you burn the calories that are stored as fat around your hips — as well as everywhere else on your body.
As you burn fat, you'll see fat loss in your arms, face, belly and hips. You may start to lose fat in those other areas before seeing a change in your desired area of fat loss. Stick with it and you'll get the results you're after.
Types of Cardio
Cardio can be considered as anything that raises your heart rate and keeps it there for a period of time. The heart has to work harder to get oxygen and blood to your working muscles, and that takes energy. Through your body's process of converting calories to energy, you burn fat.
Therefore, lots of activities count as cardio — running, swimming, cycling, rowing, aerobics classes, hiking, skiing, dancing, even mowing the lawn if you have to work hard enough. Anything you do that makes you sweat and get a little — or a lot — short of breath is doing its job.
The best type of cardio for reducing the size of your hips is the type you enjoy and that you'll do regularly. If you don't do it regularly, you won't be able to maintain the calorie deficit necessary for fat loss.
About Exercise Intensity
Beyond consistency, intensity also plays a role in your success. The harder you work, the more calories you burn. For example, according to Harvard Health Publishing, walking at a slow pace of 3.5 miles per hour for 30 minutes burns an average of 150 calories, the exact number depending on your weight.
Increase your speed to 4.5 miles per hour, and you'll burn on average 180 calories in the same amount of time. Better yet, increase your speed to a running pace of 5 miles per hour, and you'll burn closer to 300 calories and so on.
If you really want to shed hip fat, choose an activity and do it as intensely as you can for at least 30 minutes. If you're just beginning an exercise program, start slow and build your intensity with each workout.
High-Intensity Interval Training
So far, we've established that any cardio is good cardio. Consistency is key. Intensity matters. Here's another tidbit: you can burn fat faster and in a shorter amount of time with a type of cardio called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.
This isn't a particular activity, like biking or swimming, it's the manner in which you do your chosen activity that matters, alternating periods of very intense effort with periods of recovery in a ratio of 1-to-1, 1-to-2, 1-to-3 and so on. The reason this works so well is because it enables you to exercise at an intensity level that causes positive metabolic adaptations in the way your body burns fat.
Without the recovery period, like most humans you'd poop out after a couple minutes and go home. With the recovery period, you can repeatedly access this threshold of major calorie burning without quitting.
Burning Calories After Your Workout
In addition to simply burning a boatload of calories while you're doing it, HIIT also causes your body to continue burning calories after your workout is over — up to 24 hours over. This is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. You'll never need to use that in casual conversation, but it's a major reason HIIT is so effective.
The last best thing about HIIT is that the workouts aren't very long — typically 15 to 20 minutes, plus a warm up and cool down.
HIIT Workout on a Treadmill
HOW TO DO IT: A HIIT workout on a treadmill consists of warming up with a walk at 4 to 5 mph for five minutes. Increase to a sprinting pace of 7 to 9 mph for one minute. Return to your easy jogging pace for one minute. Repeat steps 1 and 2 a total of eight times. Cool down.
Keep in mind that everyone's sprinting pace is different. If you haven't been exercising, you shouldn't be sprinting at 9 mph, and you probably shouldn't even be sprinting yet. The point is to work at your maximum pace during the high-effort periods, which could be a fast walk right now. Your goal is to continue to push the envelope with each workout and each week.
Although highly effective, HIIT is strenuous and you shouldn't try to do it every day. One to three HIIT workouts on nonconsecutive days, couples with more moderately paced cardio on the other days, is a good goal.
Diet and Strength Training
Cardio is just one part of the fat-burning equation. If you're serious about reducing your hip size, you need to eat a healthy, calorie-controlled diet free of junk food and you need to strength train.
Strength training is important for bone strength and daily functioning, but it also revs your metabolism. Adding a couple days of total-body strength training to your cardio routine will help you burn hip fat faster, and it will also give you a lean, toned appearance once the fat comes off.