Belly fat is widely thought of as the most stubborn fat.
You might already be some way through a weight loss program, noticing that you’re losing fat pretty much everywhere other than your stomach or across your waistline.
Or you might be relatively trim elsewhere apart from the stubborn area around your waist where you really want to lose it.
Losing belly fat is vital for our general health. Belly fat is known as “bad fat” in that it increases our risk of various diseases more so than other fat.
So, how do you get rid of belly fat for good?
A commonly asked weight-loss question is: “what exercise burns the most belly fat?”
Here, we’re going to answer that question and focus on exercises for burning belly fat.
The issue with belly fat
Belly fat is problematic for our health and worse than any other kind of fat.
The British Heart Foundation says that excessive weight around the belly and stomach results in an 87% risk of cardiovascular disease, even when someone is of average weight and size in other parts of the body.
So why is belly fat bad?
Because of its proximity to our vital organs, including the heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys.
This means belly fat is highly likely to occur with fat deposits on and around the organs themselves.
Of course, excessive fat anywhere on the body is bad for us, but belly fat scores a double-whammy, a two-in-one, in that it’s stubborn AND particularly bad for us!
Why can’t I lose my belly fat?
Fat is not all made the same; it varies significantly throughout the body.
When we begin a workout regime, we might notice quick and immediate results across some parts of our bodies. Our face, arms, legs, hips, thighs and buttocks might begin to lean out quickly.
This varies from person to person. Our genetics and natural body type both help dictate the areas we lose fat from faster than others.
Those with hourglass or pear-shaped figures might experience the opposite. They might be able to slim their waist quickly but struggle to lose fat across the legs and thighs.
Those with apple-shaped bodies are probably more likely to experience stubborn stomach or abdominal fat.
In the end, though, anyone with any body type can experience some level of stubborn belly fat.
According to some studies, belly fat is more likely to be packed with ‘alpha cells’ that inhibit fat loss. Other parts of the body contain more ‘beta cells’ that promote fat loss.
If your belly fat is packed with more alpha fat cells than beta fat cells, which seems common, you might struggle to lose it, even when you can lose weight from other parts of your body.
Exercises for belly fat
There are some positive things about belly fat!
Evidence presented in Time has shown belly fat to be metabolically active. That means it responds very well to exercise.
Dr Arthur Weltman, chair of the department of kinesiology at the University of Virginia, said:
“Some fat deposits are more metabolically active than others, and those may be more responsive to exercise interventions. Abdominal fat, in particular, is one of the most metabolically active fats.”
In short, this means exercise is an excellent way to ‘target belly fat’.
Diet does matter, too, as it always does for any form of weight loss, but the good news is that exercises for belly fat can help speed up weight loss around the belly.
Can you target belly fat?
Can you target belly fat with specific exercises?
Targeting certain parts of the body with specific exercises, like your arms with arm curls or stomach with sit-ups, is called spot training.
Spot training does work for muscle growth, but probably not for fat loss.
One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that six weeks of abdominal workouts did nothing to slim the participant’s waistlines.
This might all seem a bit contradictory, but the general conclusions are that any and all exercise will yield results for stomach fat or abdominal fat, provided you:
A) Stick with a regular workout routine for the long-term
B) Exercise sufficiently vigorously enough for fat loss
C) Balance exercise with a great diet
There is another twist to the tale. Since spot training does help build muscle in the area you’re targeting, targeting the stomach to burn belly fat will help develop strong abs, which will help tone and shape your abdomen.
To summarise, spot training is not a bad thing for targeting belly fat.
But don’t neglect the capacity for other types of exercise to help with belly fat either.
Since belly fat is metabolically active, all exercise can help you lose it.
Without further discussion, let’s look at the top 5 exercises to burn belly fat.
1. Walking to burn belly fat
Many people underestimate the calorie-burning power of a good old walk. Even 30 minutes of walking at a decent pace can burn between 150 to 200 calories.
Add in some rough terrain and hills, and you might exceed 250 to 300 calories for a 30-minute walk.
That’s quite considerable, and walking will also get you outside, which yields many other health benefits.
You can easily combine a walk with other exercises at other times of the day. Since they probably won’t knock us flat like more intensive types of exercise, walking is a great way to start with a new exercise routine.
Also, for the over-50s, walks are accessible and safe. You can also walk with others - a social activity as well as an exercise activity.
Just try and not pass by the pub on your route!
Benefits of walking for belly fat:
- Surprisingly solid calorie burn for 30-minute to 1-hour sessions
- Accessible at most ages
- It gets us outside in the fresh air
- Throw in some hills to really up the ante
- Mild leg and core muscle workout
2. HIIT for belly fat
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. You combine short bursts of exercise (typically under a minute in length) with a rest period. Rinse and repeat.
HIIT was a relatively new concept even some 10 to 15 years ago. It sprung into the mainstream health and fitness world when studies uncovered how powerful HIIT was for calorie burning and conditioning.
Legion Athletics state that just 17 minutes of HIIT can result in more fat burn than an hour of vigorous traditional cardio.
One study showed that just four to six 30 second sprints resulted in more significant fat burn than an entire hour of mild treadmill exercise!
That sounds great, but many people underestimate quite how hard you need to push yourself for those high-intensity workout periods.
Understandably, if you’re an over-50s reader, then you might be wondering, is HIIT suitable for older people?
HIIT has been studied for its benefits to seniors, and the results are generally very good.
There are no significant safety concerns provided you have no underlying health issues.
HIIT routines for seniors are found to decrease muscle wastage, boost memory and even ward off Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's disease.
Always ask for professional advice if you’re unsure whether HIIT is for you.
Benefits of HIIT training for belly fat
- Powerful calorie burning
- It doesn’t take long to do - can do it multiple times a day if necessary
- Can incorporate abdominal exercises
- Whole-body workout
- Safe for most people
3. Abdominal and core exercises for belly fat
Abdominal exercises target the stomach muscles and core.
As we’ve learnt, this probably isn’t your ticket to targeted weight loss around the stomach.
But, abdominal exercises for belly fat will burn fat from all over the body. In the process, you’ll add muscle to your core, increasing your metabolic rate and toning the abdominal area.
You ideally want some abs to go with your flat stomach, right?!
Burpees are widely considered one of the most intense core body exercises.
CrossFit has an excellent demonstration of how to do a burpee here.
Burpees target the core, but they provide a whole body workout. They’re incredibly efficient, and you don’t need to do many of them to feel the burn across your core.
You can find lower-intensity burpee variations if you find it tough to do the whole exercise. It can be a little strenuous on the back so if you have issues here, take care and start slowly.
Another core body exercise, the mountain climber, is somewhat like a plank.
Fitness instructor Joe Wicks incorporates many mountain climbers into his HIIT and core/upper body workouts.
He has a fitness routine that includes mountain climbers here, or you can watch below.
Again, mountain climbers can be tough on the back, but they’re generally suitable for anyone - including older people and are another superb exercise for burning belly fat.
Crunches and sit-ups? Beware!
The sit-up is the classic abdominal exercise that we’re all probably familiar with. However, they have been criticised in recent years for being bad for the back.
Think twice before jumping on the floor and doing sit-ups if you’re over 50 and want to burn belly fat.
Benefits of abdominal/core exercises for belly fat:
- Improve core strength
- Tones abdominal muscles
- Boost metabolism
- Can be combined with other workouts
- No equipment required
For more core exercises, check out our guide here.
4. Strength training for belly fat
Strength training combined with cardio or aerobic exercise is a potent combination for burning belly fat.
"Engaging in weight training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass..."
Strength training bolsters and boosts our metabolism, helping us increase our muscle mass, meaning we burn more calories when we do work out.
For older people, strength training can reduce muscle wastage that commonly occurs after 50 or so.
Of course, older people should be cautious when it comes to weight and strength training. There are plenty of YouTube demonstrations designed specifically for older age groups.
Always start with low weights and build your way up. Arnie and Stallone might be in their 70s, but they didn’t become that strong overnight!
Benefits of strength training for belly fat:
- Reduce muscle wastage in older people
- Boost metabolic rate
- Improve core muscle strength
- Safe for most people (always seek advice if unsure)
- Can be combined with aerobic exercise for the best results
There we have it! Four excellent exercises for burning belly fat, suitable for all age groups.
Remember, if you’re new to an exercise routine, then take everything slowly and steadily at first and gradually build your way towards greater intensity.
Always seek professional advice if you’re worried about whether you can or should do specific exercises.
With dedication, perseverance and determination, you can burn your belly fat away, no matter how stubborn you think it is!