I often get asked this question when people are keen to shed a few kilos from around the midrift. Many people think that to lose the gut you need to exercise it, therefore crunches must be the way to go. This myth has been around for many years and is totally unfounded, you simply cannot spot reduce fat by exercising that region! What’s even worse is that crunches are potentially a very damaging exercise to your spine, but that’s another blog in itself (if you’re interested, Scott Wood has a good blog about this topic which you’ll find by clicking here).
However, there is some good science about the best form of exercise to reduce the waistline and shed those extra kilos.
The particular study I’m referring to was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise a few years back by Brian Irving and colleagues. In this study they compared the effect both low intensity and high intensity exercise have on body composition in women with metabolic syndrome (one of the aspects of this is having a high waist girth).
So that you could not say that they lost more weight because the high intensity group were just burning more calories, Irving controlled the sessions over 16 weeks so that they burnt the same number of calories (2000 per week). What they found was that the high intensity group lost twice the amount of fat than the low intensity group.
Surely if the calories burnt was the same they should have lost the same amount of fat, right?
Unfortunately weight loss is not as simple as energy in versus energy out, there is much more going on especially with our hormones. Higher intensity exercise challenges our body to use insulin to get sugar out of the blood and into the muscle. Insulin is also a growth hormone, and in particular a good fat growth hormone, so improving your body’s ability to utilise this pathway is very beneficial and also leads to lower blood sugar levels.
But what about the waist?
Again, hormones are most probably at play here but what they found was that the high intensity group lost 5.6 cm from around the waist (over two inches!) while the low intensity group lost 1.2 centimetres. They were also able to measure the amount of fat lost from around the waist using CT scans and the high intensity group lost a whopping 9%.
This was four times more than the low intensity group!
So the moral of the study is to up the ante with your exercise. If you’re not huffing and puffing by the end of the session you’re probably not working hard enough for abdominal fat loss. The great thing is that because you’re working at a higher intensity, you’re not having to spend as much time exercising to get even better effects than lower intensity exercises such as a casual walk.
Obviously other factors are at play when we look to lose weight such as your diet, stress and sleep. If you want to learn more, and live close to Adelaide, South Australia, we are having a seminar on weight loss this week. You can click here to learn more.