Turns out that you should sign up for the local 5K, and run it. That is, if you’re looking to lose a muffin top and fit into your skinny jeans. Running is more effective than walking when it comes to burning off excess belly fat. You burn a greater number of calories and stimulate hormonal action that mobilizes belly fat.
Big, Bad Belly Fat
Belly fat is made up of subcutaneous fat, which lies just under the skin, and visceral fat, which surrounds your internal organs. Subcutaneous fat isn't pretty — it's pinchable and soft — but presents less of a health concern than visceral fat.
Visceral fat releases compounds that increase your body's level of inflammation and puts you at a greater risk of chronic conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. You want to lose both types of fat to look better in a bathing suit, but losing excess visceral fat is critical to good health.
Running Mobilizes Visceral Fat Best
Being active is one of the best ways to lose belly fat, particularly visceral fat. Higher-intensity exercise, such as running, has been proven as most effective. It burns significant calories during the activity and induces the release of lipolytic hormones that promotes greater fat burning. It also raises your metabolic rate for a short period following exercise.
A study published in a 2009 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise compared the effects of exercise intensity on the loss of belly fat in post-menopausal women.
Those who included high-intensity exercise, defined by the exerciser's perceived exertion, instead of only low-intensity exercise for 16 weeks lost significantly more belly fat. This is despite all groups taking in and exercising off an equivalent number of calories. Running is considered a high-intensity exercise, while walking is a low-intensity one.
An earlier study, published in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology, showed that jogging at a vigorous intensity 12 miles per week resulted in greater visceral fat loss than walking 12 miles per week. Jogging 20 miles per week resulted in even more visceral fat loss.
High-Intensity Intervals Further Your Loss
Once you become proficient at running, add intervals at one or two workouts per week to further belly fat loss. For example, after you warm up for five to 10 minutes, sprint for a minute or two followed by an easy jog or walk for one to two minutes.
Alternate for the duration of your workout and follow with a five-minute cool down. This form of workout, known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has been shown to burn fat more efficiently than steady-state exercise, explains a 2011 article in the Journal of Obesity.
Weight Training is Another Key to Losing Belly Fat
Run to lose belly fat, but don't let it be your sole strategy. Include regular resistance training to build muscle, enhance your metabolism and encourage belly fat loss.
A study in a 2013 issue of the International Journal of Cardiology showed that participants in a program that involved moderate amounts of endurance cardio and high amounts of resistance training lost visceral fat more rapidly than those who focused mostly on cardio.
If running is new to you, start slowly — in terms of speed and distance — to prevent overuse injuries and strain to your bones, muscles and joints that occurs when you haven't yet adapted to the impact.
Older, heavier or deconditioned people will likely need to start with a walk/run program that builds up to running continuously for several miles. Younger people who already have a fair base of fitness may run two to three miles at a time every other day when first starting out.
Walking as an Option
If you can't run, you don't have to resign yourself to having a large tummy. A physically-active lifestyle helps banish excess belly fat, so find something you enjoy and will stick with for the long term.
If running isn't your thing, walking is a valid option and may be the best choice if you're extremely overweight or have joint problems.