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A bit of fat on your belly may not seem like a big deal, but it can cause all sorts of problems (beyond not being able to button your favorite jeans). Unlike excess weight that lands on your hips or thighs, belly fat can be a harbinger of health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. And no amount of crunches is going to make it disappear. What will help, however, is pushing yourself harder during your cardio workouts. It’s called high intensity interval training (or HIIT for short), and it’s been proven to decrease dangerous abdominal fat.
Here, what you need to know to make this fat-blasting workout part of your exercise routine.
High intensity interval training is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—instead of plodding along on the treadmill at the same slow, steady pace for 30 minutes, you alternate doing bursts of faster, harder movement for a minute or so followed by a few minutes of slower recovery. “I tell my clients to pick one variable—either pace or incline—and focus on increasing that in order to up the intensity,” says Christa Bache, a New York City-based personal trainer. “One of the big advantages of this type of workout is that because you’re working at a higher intensity, you can get a great workout in just 20 to 30 minutes.”
It’s important to note that “high intensity” is a very relative term, and you don’t need to be a trained athlete to do it. If you normally walk on the treadmill at 15-minute-mile pace, a high intensity interval for you could be ramping up to a 12-minute-mile (or if you normally keep the treadmill flat, take the incline up a few notches).
What the science says
Numerous studies have found that this type of workout not only makes you fitter, faster than what you’re currently doing, but it’s also been shown to be beneficial for reducing health risks associated with conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. But how does it help banish belly fat? “When you exercise at a higher intensity, more growth hormone is released,” explains Arthur Weltman, Ph.D., head of the exercise physiology laboratory, University of Virginia. “And as growth hormone goes up, levels of visceral [or abdominal] fat goes down.”
How to pick up the pace safely
“You can adapt this type of workout to any population and they see improvements,” says Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., director, Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, Arizona State University. “And it can be safe for anyone because the intensity is calibrated to your own fitness level.” Bache suggests having a baseline level of fitness that includes doing a minimum of 30 minutes of cardio three times per week before amping it up. She also stresses the importance of a good warm up before starting your intervals—up to 10 minutes of moderate-pace walking or jogging. And finally, “skip the HIIT workout if you’re feeling really tired,” says Bache. The intensity of the workout—combined with an unrested body—can make it harder for your muscles to recover and could lead to damage instead of improvements.
Replace one or two or your regular cardio sessions with this type of training and don’t be surprised to find your favorite jeans start sliding on a lot easier.By SALLY WADYKA