In theory, running 20 minutes a day can help you burn body fat — although you don't get to choose which body parts lose the fat first. But in actual practice you'll almost always get better results by adding more physical activity, tweaking your diet, or both.
Although jogging or running 20 minutes a day represents a practical contribution to any weight loss effort, you'll get the best results by combining those workouts with other types of physical activity and a healthy diet.
Belly Fat 101
Before going any further, here's a quick primer on body fat in general, and belly fat in particular. We all have two notable types of belly fat, starting with subcutaneous fat, which lives just under your skin and can exist anywhere, including on your belly.
The other type of fat around your belly is visceral fat, which sits deep inside your abdomen and cushions the space between your internal organs. As Harvard Health Publishing explains, too much visceral fat can also pose serious health risks, above and beyond the risks of having too much (subcutaneous) body fat overall.
Here's some good news: All body fat represents stored energy, and if you consistently burn more calories than you take in, your body will have to use that stored fat as fuel — which is how you lose weight. Barring complications, to lose a pound of body fat you must burn about 3,500 calories more than you consume.
Jogging and Belly Fat
So, how useful is jogging or running 20 minutes a day when it comes to losing excess belly fat? That depends, to a great degree, on how much you weigh and how fast you run. In general, the more you weigh and the faster you run, the more calories you'll burn. The following calorie burn estimates are based on the American Council on Exercise physical activity calorie counter.
If you weigh 165 pounds:
- Jogging burns 174 calories in 20 minutes
- Running at 5 mph burns 199 calories in 20 minutes
- Running at 6 mph burns 249 calories in 20 minutes
- Running at 7 mph burns 286 calories in 20 minutes
If you weigh 195 pounds:
- Jogging burns 206 calories in 20 minutes
- Running at 5 mph burns 235 calories in 20 minutes
- Running at 6 mph burns 294 calories in 20 minutes
- Running at 7 mph burns 339 calories in 20 minutes
To pull things into perspective, in order to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as a safe, sustainable rate of weight loss — you need to maintain a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day. Depending on your body weight, that could mean jogging for two hours or more.
If you eat an appropriate number of calories and add in jogging or running 20 minutes a day, you can still lose weight and slim your belly — it'll just take longer for the results to show.
Read more: How Much Cardio a Day to Lose Belly Fat?
What About Exercise Intensity?
Does exercise intensity affect how quickly fat comes off your belly instead of other parts of your body? Researchers are still working on a conclusive answer to that, and the answer appears to depend, to some degree, on whether you're trying to lose visceral abdominal fat or subcutaneous abdominal fat.
Although it only involved 28 subjects (all overweight women with type 2 diabetes), a study published in the June 2012 issue of Diabetes & Metabolism Journal is particularly noteworthy because it quantified how exercise intensity affected both visceral and subcutaneous fat. Remember, your belly fat may be subcutaneous fat, visceral fat, or a combination of both.
After a 12-week exercise program, researchers concluded that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise produced significant loss of both total fat and visceral fat when compared to not exercising at all. Vigorous exercise produced significant reductions in subcutaneous fat.
What about high-intensity interval training, or HIIT? Often lauded as a solution for belly fat, this type of workout does in fact show promise. For example, in an April 2016 issue of The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers recruited 39 healthy adults to either pursue conventional gym training or conventional training plus HIIT.
Ultimately, both groups were successful in reducing overall body fat and visceral body fat. But the group that incorporated HIIT showed significant greater reductions in both visceral fat levels and abdominal girth.
Bottom line: As long as you establish that all-important calorie deficit, almost any type of exercise will help you get to a flatter belly. But if you want faster results, it might not hurt to throw some quick HIIT intervals into your 20-minute jogs — once you're fully warmed up, of course.
- Diabetes and Metabolism Journal: "Effects of Aerobic Exercise Intensity on Abdominal and Thigh Adipose Tissue and Skeletal Muscle Attenuation in Overweight Women With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus"
- American Council on Exercise: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What Is Healthy Weight Loss?"
- 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"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"