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Surprising Habits That Shrink Your "Belly Fat"

Belly fat is a special cause for concern.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

No one welcomes excess body fat wherever it may appear, but belly fat is a special cause for concern. This type of fat—also known as visceral fat—sits deep within the abdomen, around vital organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines, and it can cause serious health issues. If you're putting on belly fat, it's best to lose it ASAP, and it might be easier than you think. Here are five surprising habits that shrink belly fat. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Lift Weights

woman sitting in gym with weight and water bottle

Think burning fat is all about spending hours on the treadmill or other forms of sweaty cardio? Experts say that's not the most efficient way—resistance exercise is key. A 2021 review of studies found that resistance training—either working out with weights, weight machines, or your own bodyweight—effectively reduces belly fat in healthy adults. Resistance training builds lean muscle, which helps you burn more fat even at rest. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly, with two sessions of resistance training. And doing more will get more results: Research indicates that exercising for 60 minutes a day can burn up to 30% of your belly fat in three months.


Just Work Out a Little

woman jogging uphill to burn double the calories, sunny day with city backdrop

But even if you can't work out for an hour a day, short bursts (or "exercise snacks") can go a long way toward burning belly fat. A recent Korean study found that overweight people who did stair-climbing intervals twice a day for five minutes without stopping lost an average of 7.3 pounds of body weight and 5.5 pounds of body fat in just three weeks. 


Go to Sleep Earlier

woman sleeping at night with eye mask

What does lying flat on your back have to do with burning belly fat? Plenty, when it comes to sleep. Not only is not getting enough sleep (less than seven hours) associated with belly fat growth, when you hit the hay also seems to have an effect. In a recent study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers found that people who went to bed after 10pm had a 20% higher risk of being obese or having a large waistline. In people whose regular bedtimes were between 2 and 6am, the risk was almost double. Scientists think late bedtimes might increase the production of stress hormones, which tell the body to put on and preserve belly fat.


Drink Wine (If You Must), Not Spirits

woman drinking wine alcohol at home

According to a recent study published in the journal Obesity Science & Practice, people who drink more beer and spirits tend to have higher levels of visceral fat. Conversely, people who drank wine instead had lower levels of visceral fat. So if you indulge, you might want to swap out your libation of choice. But don't take up drinking in the hopes of burning fat. Experts say that because all alcohol is empty calories, it's best to skip it if you want to lose weight, or to drink only in moderation: meaning two drinks a day at most for men, or one drink a day max for women.


Relax More

curly haired woman drinking from mug while sitting on couch
Shutterstock / simona pilolla 2

The popular conception is that stress goes right to your head and your heart, but headaches, high blood pressure, and heartburn aren't its only complications—uncontrolled stress can cause you to end up with a gut as well. Feelings of stress cause the brain to produce more cortisol, the "stress hormone" that instructs the body to hold on to fat around the abdomen. "A study of stressed out middle-aged Swedish men showed that those with the highest cortisol levels also had the biggest beer bellies," says the American Institute of Stress. "Since abdominal fat also tends to increase cortisol levels, this can lead to a vicious and unhealthy cycle, especially in women. There is little doubt that increased stress and/or cortisol can cause increased abdominal fat and weight gain." Stress-reducing strategies like exercise and relaxation techniques can reduce free-floating cortisol and help shrink belly fat. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael