What is the best way to cut down on belly fat if weight-loss is not necessarily the goal?
Belly fat is pernicious. Most of it consists of visceral, or deep, fat, which is physiologically different from subcutaneous fat, the kind that settles just beneath your skin. Studies have shown that visceral fat produces unique biochemical signals that promote inflammation throughout the body, increasing the risk for many diseases. In a 2012 study by Mayo Clinic researchers, people whose body mass indexes were in the normal range but who had large waistlines were more likely to die prematurely than people who qualified as obese but had relatively narrow waists.
The good news about fighting visceral fat is that it seems to be uniquely vulnerable to exercise. “Exercise disproportionately targets visceral fat,” says Gary R. Hunter, a professor of human studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Cutting calories should also reduce visceral flab, he said, but the effects are more substantial and lasting with exercise. In past studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he said, sedentary women who began a yearlong program of moderate exercise twice a week lost about 2 percent of their total body fat, he said. But they lost about 10 percent of their visceral fat.
It is not clear, though, whether some types of exercise are better than others at whittling waistlines. While some studies suggest that endurance training, such as walking or jogging, is more effective than weight training, a comprehensive 2013 review concluded that programs combining aerobic exercise and occasional sessions of weight training were superior to either type of exercise alone at reducing belly fat.
One exercise that will not slim your belly is the situp, despite entrenched beliefs to the contrary. Situps do not spot reduce the waistline, Dr. Hunter says, adding, “You’re better off going for a walk.”
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