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When most people think of a pot belly, they are usually referring to the excessive fat around the abdominal area. Having too much fat in that region is correlated with several diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
In one study, researchers looked at health information gathered from over 15,000 adults who took part in a nationwide survey. The results suggested that people with central obesity (also known as “pot belly” or abdominal fat) have higher mortality than BMI-defined obesity, especially when lacking central fat distribution. (1)
Having too much belly fat also can increase your risk of dementia. A study published in 2008 in Neurology suggested that abdominal fat may increase people’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. (2)(3)(4)
Having more fat than muscle, especially in the abdominal area, can also lead to diabetes. A 2020 study found that having a higher fat-to-muscle ratio was significantly associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome (5), two risk factors for diabetes.
Abdominal fat is a precursor to many health issues. What can you do to combat a “pot belly”? Besides adhering to proper nutrition guidelines, exercise can also help.
Here are exercises and yoga moves to help reduce your pot belly.
1. Weight Training
Many people turn to cardio exercises to lose stubborn belly fat, but weight training can have similar, if not better results. Weight lifting has amazing benefits when it comes to health, and it can help fight against a bulging belly.
A study conducted in 2014 demonstrated that healthy men who practiced 20 minutes of weight training daily had a lower increase in age-related abdominal fat in comparison to men who performed aerobic exercises for the same amount of time. (6)
Always choose an appropriate amount of weight before lifting. Generally, you want to lift something that is challenging but in perfect form.
Weight training is most effective when done 2-3 times a week per muscle group with 8-12 repetitions. It is always recommended to seek the guidance of an experienced trainer if you are a beginner.
2. Core Exercises
There are hundreds of different core exercises that you could do to whittle down extra belly fat. Some are better than others, and some might not work for everyone.
Here are the basic ones you can do.
a. Mountain Climbers
This exercise is great at toning up your abdominal muscles, as well as burning extra calories.
- Face the floor in a push-up position with your palms flat on the floor, shoulder-length apart.
- Hold yourself with your arms outstretched and back flat.
- Bring one knee to your chest, and then return it to its previous position. That’s one repetition.
- Repeat the steps on the other leg.
- Do 3 sets of 10-20 repetitions per leg.
Depending on your current level, you can perform this exercise 3-4 times a week.
Note: If you need to make it easier, raise your position onto a bench or chair.
b. Basic Crunches
Crunches are very easy to do, and you have plenty of variations to choose from. They are a great basic exercise for a beginner to build up the core muscles.
- Lay down with your back flat on the floor.
- Raise your legs off the floor and bend them to a 90° angle.
- Place your hands by your ears, but do not clasp them together behind your head.
- Bracing your abdominal muscles, lift your head and upper back from the floor and hold for 2-3 seconds.
- Repeat for reps desired, starting with 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.
Do this exercise 3-4 times a week.
Note: Keep your lower back on the floor at all times. Only the upper back should come up off the floor.
c. Bicycle Crunches
This exercise is an excellent variation of the traditional crunch, and it targets the rectus abdominis and obliques in one easy exercise.
- Similar to the basic crunch, you start in the crunch position but with the legs straight.
- Lift your head and upper back.
- Bring one knee up to the chest, and reach the opposite side elbow to the knee.
- Lower the knee and elbow back to the starting position, and repeat on the opposite sides. Focus on slow movement, rather than trying to complete it as fast as possible.
- Repeat for 10-12 reps each side for 3 sets.
Try to do this exercise 3-4 times a week.
Note: If you have any lower back issues, avoid this exercise. An easy way to modify it is by keeping the head to the floor, thus taking off the stress to the lower back.
3. Yoga Poses
Besides traditional exercises such as body weight and weight training exercises, there are some very beneficial yoga exercises that you can do.
While they can definitely help eliminate excess abdominal fat, they also have other significant benefits: increased flexibility and can be done anywhere!
a. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
The chair pose, or Utkatasana, is a great exercise to strengthen not only your abdominal muscles but also your legs and arms. It is an isometric exercise, which means you hold the position for several seconds without moving.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Initiate the movement by raising your arms straight up, going above the head.
- Sit your hips back and bend your knees slightly, as if you were sitting on a chair. Your hips should be at about a 45° angle, arms overhead, with knees, slightly bent.
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds while breathing deeply and consistently.
- Slowly stand back up, exhaling as you do.
- Repeat the move 10-15 times.
Perform this exercise about 2-3 times a week.
b. Standing Forward Bend (Padahastasana)
The standing forward bend is great for stubborn belly fat. In this yoga move, complete compression of the abdominal area occurs, leading to fat burning in the tummy and waistline area.
It is also great for the hamstrings and spine, leading to increased flexibility and mobility.
- Stand with your feet close together, and stand tall with hands at the sides.
- Taking a deep breath in, raise your arms high overhead.
- Exhale as you bend forward at the hips, keeping the knees straight.
- Place your hands as close to the floor as possible, or grab your lower legs. Try to get your head as close to the knees as possible.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, stand up, and rest for 10-30 seconds.
- Repeat for 5-10 repetitions, once a day.
Note: If you suffer from lower back pain, you may want to hold off on this move. Stick with the other exercises on this list.
Other Tips and Advice
Aside from the exercises that will help you in the battle against belly bulge, it is also necessary to change or alter certain lifestyle habits that contribute to excess weight gain.
Say goodbye to your pot belly with these tips:
- Aim to eat a balanced diet that is rich in colorful vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins.
- Limit your consumption of processed foods (pizza, candy, baked goods, soda, etc.).
- Sleep is crucial! Lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your hormones and the body’s natural chemical levels, which can affect appetite and weight gain. (7)
- Replace unhealthy snack choices with healthier ones: snack on carrots instead of crunchy chips or fruit instead of sweets.
Always opt for a snack that is high in fiber as well to stay satiated longer.
- Eat enough protein! A high-protein diet can help with appetite control.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Exercise with a moderate to vigorous intensity at least 2-3 times a week.