The male belly is a strange phenomenon. It comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s become the focal point of the fitness industry (love handles, double chins and man boobs all trailing close behind). But what do you do if you’re not happy with yours? Putting any six-pack-based goals aside for a moment, here’s how to trim your tyre before you start working on your abs.
Increase blood flow to lose belly fat
Everyone stores fat differently. Some people might tuck it under their chin whereas others might collect it on their arse. This is because research published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation found that fat cells – known as adipocytes – behave differently depending on where they’re found on the body. For instance fat cells in the, “Abdominal region are metabolically much more active than those in the femoral (thigh) region.”
What this means is that fat on your stomach responds differently to exercise than fat on your legs. One reason for this is because the areas on the body that store more stubborn fat get less blood flowing to them. This in turn means less fat can be released and used for energy.
Hence why dieting alone isn’t enough. An idea supported by scientists from the Department of Clinical Chemistry at Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark who found, “Lipolysis (fat loss) is accompanied by an increase in the fatty tissue blood flow.” For this very reason relying on the old calories in/calories out method won’t be enough if you want to banish your belly. Instead run, jog, bike or swim, but most importantly move and increase blood flow and fat loss.
Increase your intensity to lose belly fat
Scientists from the Department of Medical Physiology at the Panum Institute in Denmark wanted to explore this theory that you can lose fat from a specific area of the body by exercising that area. It’s an idea known as “spot” fat reduction and to test it they took ten men and had them perform one-legged knee extensions for 30 minutes one leg.
After examining the fat lost around the trained muscle compared to the “resting muscle” they found lipolysis (fat loss) was generally higher in the fat adjacent to contracting muscle compared to the resting muscle. Again noting, “Blood flow and lipolysis (fat loss) was higher” in the trained leg they concluded, “Thus specific exercises can induce “spot lipolysis” in adipose tissue.”
Great news, right? We should all endlessly attack the ab rollers to shrink our stomachs? Well not so fast. The amount of fat loss recorded by our friends in Denmark was tiny to the point of being insignificant. For this reason you’d be better off listening to the guys over at Laval University in Canada who set out to monitor the, “Effect of intensity of physical activity on body fatness and fat distribution.”
After analysing 1,257 men and 1,366 women who participated in the Canada Fitness Survey they found waist size, “remained significantly lower in subjects performing high-intensity exercise.” Worth stressing is this is not casually rolling back and forth on an ab machine or leisurely mounting the thigh master. An idea echoed by research published in the Journal of Obesity who stated, “High Intensity training three times per week was associated with significant reductions in total body fat, leg and trunk fat.”
In summary, yes “spot” fat reduction is possible. Should you do it? No, because the amount lost is negligible. Instead perform full body, high intensity training like getting yourself up and down a hill, repeatedly, as quick as you can. Scientifically this has been shown to be better for carving your core.
Reduce stress to lose belly fat
One final point to consider is that in a small number of cases abdominal fat could be due to an imbalance in the body’s hormones caused by stress. Noted by scientists from the University of Uppsala in Sweden they found, “Non-obese healthy young men exposed to long-term stress developed abdominal obesity.”
Whilst this is an incredibly complex biochemical problem and entire research centres are dedicated to studying the intricacies of the human endocrine system, the main point to take away from this is relax and lower your cortisol (your body’s stress hormone). Since research published by the American Physiological Society supports this idea that a relaxed belly is also a lean belly.
In summary, the stomach is a complex entity that’s far more intelligent than people give it credit for.