Can Running Help You Shed Unwanted Belly Fat?

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If you're trying to get rid of stubborn belly fat, you might wonder whether running is the solution. Unfortunately, while running is a great way to burn calories and lose overall weight, it's not a guaranteed way to lose your spare tire, belly, pooch, or whatever else you want to not-so-affectionately call it. It's also true that you won't lose fat from your abdominal area just by targeting your abs with crunches or other abdominal exercises.

To lose belly fat, you have to reduce your overall body fat. While running can help you lose fat, your genetics mainly determine what areas of your body will lose the fat first. You can't specifically target that annoying layer of padding underneath your abdomen with running, so you need to combine it with other aerobic activities.

The Dangers of Belly Fat

Belly fat isn't just underneath your skin, it's also deep inside your body, around your vital organs. This is called visceral fat and the more you have of it, the higher your risk of developing serious diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and breathing issues.

The good news is that studies show that moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise such as running can help reduce visceral fat, even without changing your diet. Combining aerobic exercise with a healthy, low-calorie diet is even better for both overall weight loss and visceral fat loss, though exercise seems to be more effective than diet when it comes to targeting visceral fat.

For women, a waist size of under 35 inches helps reduce the risk of serious health problems associated with visceral fat. For men, the target waist size is under 40 inches.

Too Much Visceral Fat Can Increase Your Chance of Health Problems

Strategies for Losing Belly Fat

Here are some tips for losing weight (and, as a result, both visceral fat and belly fat) with running and a healthy, low-calorie diet:

  • Bring on the cardio. Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise in your target heart rate zone on most days of the week. To avoid burnout and injuries, alternate between running and cross-training activities, such as cycling, elliptical trainer, dancing, swimming, or hiking.
  • Consider high-intensity interval training. Adding shorter, high-intensity workouts to your routine has been shown to burn fat. While the endurance you gain from running is great, it's not particularly helpful when it comes to burning fat, especially the more your body adjusts to your routine. During a high-intensity workout, you can't work out nearly as long, but mixing it in with your regular cardio routine will help blast away fat.
  • Work in at least 10,000 steps a day. Some people find it helpful to track their daily steps. It takes an average of 10,000 steps per day to prevent weight gain, so aim for more than that when you're trying to lose weight.
  • Add strength training to your workout. Incorporate entire body strength training into your routine twice a week. You don't even need access to fancy gym equipment as you can do some of these bodyweight exercises at home. Make sure you're doing upper body and lower body exercises, as well as core strengthening exercises.
  • Know your calorie target. Use a daily caloric expenditure calculator to figure how many calories you actually need each day. Once you have that number, you need to create a deficit—through a combination of dieting or exercise—of 3500 calories a week (or 500 per day) to lose a pound a week.
  • Keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat and drink to keep track of how many calories you're taking in and figure out what bad habits you need to correct. You'll be much less likely to go overboard if you know you have to write it down. You can also use a food tracking app if you prefer, which may make the process a bit easier since most apps calculate the nutrition values for you.
  • Make small dietary changes. Focus on making small changes to your diet, such as cutting out regular soda and adding more fruits and veggies.
  • Avoid processed foods. The ingredients in packaged goods and snack foods are often loaded with trans fats, added sugar, and added salt, all of which can make it difficult to lose weight.
  • Practice portion control. Watch your portion sizes, especially after running, when you might feel tempted to eat a little extra because of all the calories you burned during your run. Have prepackaged 100-calorie snacks ready at home, so you're not tempted to go overboard. When eating out, share meals—or eat half your meal and take the rest home.
  • Check nutrition labels carefully. Just because a food is low in fat doesn't mean it isn't high in other things, like carbs and sugar. Sometimes sugar will be added to make up for the loss of flavor from the fat. Foods such as salad dressings, marinades, mayonnaise, and sauces often contain hidden fat and lots of calories.
  • Aim for satisfaction. Rather than eating until you're full, learn to recognize when you feel satisfied. This prevents you from eating calories you don't need.
  • Slow down. Focusing on your food and savoring the flavor and texture can help you eat more slowly and really enjoy what you're eating. Make a conscious effort to take smaller bites and chew them thoroughly to feel satisfied more quickly.
  • Lose the distractions. Eating when you're watching TV or trying to multitask usually results in eating more than you meant to because you weren't paying attention. When you eat, make it a point to only eat so you're aware of what and how much food is going in your mouth.
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