Written by Brian Rigby, well-known to our readers from his previous post on chronic inflammation and ways to combat it. Reviewed by Dov Michaeli, MD, Ph.D.

The link between belly fat and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis

Chronic inflammation has been linked to an incredible amount of diseases, ranging everywhere from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis to heart disease and even cancer! Beyond diet and lifestyle, belly fat is a leading cause of inflammation, and reducing it will play a huge role in your overall health!


A proven plan to burn belly fat

The good news is that even though belly fat is a huge health risk, it is also relatively easy to get rid of! You cannot “spot target” fat—you won’t get rid of your gut by doing hundreds of crunches or sit-ups a day—but because belly fat is so prone to releasing its fatty acids, it can be burned off fast.

In addition to getting rid of belly fat, working to fix the conditions which lead to it in the first place (and which may be fighting your ability to lose it) is also important. If your boat is sinking, it does you no good if you bail all the water but fail to patch the leak!

To get ship-shape, you need to both bail the water and fix the leak, that way no more water can come in. The same applies to belly fat; if you lose all your belly fat, but don’t work to fix the other causes of insulin resistance and high cortisol, then you will be battling belly fat your entire life.

To succeed in the battle against belly fat, a three-pronged approach must be taken. The first and most important thing to begin doing is aerobic exercise. Second, the other causes of insulin resistance must be addressed. Finally, stress must be taken care of so that cortisol levels don’t run chronically high. Fixing one problem is certainly a move in the right direction, but fixing all three will ensure success.


Exercise away belly fat

Studies suggest that to lose belly fat, exercise is absolutely necessary, and diet alone is not sufficient. This may seem intimidating, but to begin losing belly fat, you do not need to run five miles a day. Even a slow start is beneficial, and reductions in belly fat happen in a dose-dependent manner, meaning that the more you exercise, the more belly fat will be lost.

There is a minimum amount necessary, which research suggests is 10 METs of aerobic exercise a week. METs are a way to measure exercise using the same principle as the way we measure our resting metabolic rate. Because everyone is different, and has different metabolisms, burning 100 calories takes different amounts of time for different people and is not a useful measurement. METs helps give a scale applicable to everyone.

METs (metabolic equivalent of a task) measure not the calories burned by an activity, but the overall intensity. The more intense an exercise, the more METs are accumulated. One MET is roughly equivalent to sitting for one hour. In other words, if you did nothing at all, all day, you would burn exactly 24 METs, meeting your resting metabolic rate.


The exercises you need to do to burn belly fat

Activities which require more effort, even slightly, accrue METs faster, reflecting the increased amount of energy required to perform these tasks. Here is a brief chart of activities with MET equivalents (per hour):

  • Sitting Quietly: 1 MET
  • Walking: 2-3 METs
  • Leisure Biking: 4 METs
  • Biking, light-moderate: 7-8 METs
  • Biking, vigorous: 10
  • Swimming, light-moderate: 6 METs
  • Jogging (4 mph): 6 METs
  • Running (6 mph): 10 METs
  • Running (8 mph): 12 METs
  • Sprinting (12 mph): 19 METs

As the relative intensity of the exercise increases, MET hours also go up. If you could run at 12 mph for an hour, you would burn the metabolic equivalent of 19 hours at rest (19 METs)! Of course, this is probably not possible, but you still get significant benefit from jogging at 4 mph—two hours of jogging at this rate will net you 12 METs, two above the minimum requirement weekly for belly fat reduction!


How much exercise do you need to burn belly fat?

To be useful for belly fat reduction, the exercise needs to be aerobic; it should make you breathe hard, but not so hard you can’t speak in short sentences. Most light aerobic activities are worth around 6 METs, plus or minus one, meaning you need a minimum of an hour and a half to two hours of this activity each week.

If you feel like you don’t have the time to exercise two hours a week, find it! If you still really can’t, then up the intensity. Running at 6 mph is worth 10 METs, as is vigorous biking. If you can sustain these speeds for a half an hour, then you only need two half hour sessions a week!

If time is really an issue, then you can burst train. There are many ways to burst train, but the general idea connecting them is that you should go all out for 45-60 seconds, recover, go all out again, recover again, etc. One minute may not seem long enough to make a difference, and alone it is not, but consider this: One minute of sprinting is worth 19 MET minutes.

If you burst train with sprints and lightly jog during the recovery minutes, then you will accumulate a total of about 2.6 METs (1.6 METs from sprinting, 1 MET from jogging). Four fifteen minute sessions a week is all that is necessary—sprinting is not. Any exercise you can only do for about a minute is of sufficient intensity to be worth around 20 METs.

The more you exercise aerobically, or the more intensely, the faster the belly fat will be shed. Significant losses only begin at 10 METs per week—much higher amounts can be burned by increased exercise. It is also important to note that even though resistance training has not been directly tied to reducing belly fat, it is an extremely important part of a general fitness routine and will help raise your overall metabolic rate which will help you reduce belly fat.

Related TDWI Article: 5 Simple Fitness Workouts at Home to Burn Body FatHow To Get The Motivation To Exercise

Click here to read Part 4. If you missed the first two parts of the series, you can click here to read Part 1 and Part 2 to learn more about belly fat. The original article was first published on the PEERtrainer website.

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.


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