A flatter stomach is a popular health and fitness goal, and for good reason.
Beyond the heart-health benefits of lower abdominal fat, your clothes will fit better and your confidence levels will scale new heights.
But are you doing enough to get results?
Some actions and behaviours—if carried out consistently—can help you reach that goal of a flatter, trimmer stomach.
Weight loss coach Andrew Cate shares his secrets on how to keep your tum in tip-top shape forever more.
1. Strengthen your core
The core is a group of deep muscles located in your trunk, including the abdomen, back, pelvis and hip region. The specific muscles are called the:
- rectus abdominus (or abs)
- internal and external obliques
- pelvic floor muscles
- transverse abdominis
- erector spinae
Together, these core muscles support your spine and maintain good posture, keeping your back and shoulders upright.
Alternatively, weak core muscles can affect your pelvic alignment, giving you a slouched posture and an abdominal paunch. Yikes.
The take-home: Strong core muscles hold your tummy in tight, improving your posture and flattening your belly. Include exercises on an inflated ball in your core program as the unstable surface works the core muscles efficiently.
Here are 5 excellent core strengtheners:
- Crunch on the ball
- The praying mantis
- Oblique curl up on stability ball
- Alternate superman
- Plank on stability ball
2. Minimise your alcohol intake
You might have heard of a beer belly, but all types of alcohol lay waste to your waistline. Here’s how.
Calories—Alcohol is loaded with calories that can contribute to fat storage.
Hunger—Alcohol stimulates your appetite and triggers overeating. For example, a hangover leads to cravings for fatty foods.
Bad company—Alcohol is often consumed with foods high in calories and fat, such as cheese, nuts, crisps, and creamy dips. Spirits are also combined with high calorie mixers such as soft drink or fruit juice.
Metabolism meltdown—Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system, slowing down your metabolism (the rate that your body burns off calories).
Willpower—Following a few drinks, you’re more likely to surrender to unhealthy temptations, such as dessert at a restaurant.
The take-home: Cut right back on alcohol if you want a flat belly. Helpful strategies include:
- choosing low alcohol beers and wine
- spacing out your drinks with water
- exercising more to burn off excess alcohol calories
- having 4-6 alcohol free days a week
- eating healthy foods along with your alcoholic drinks
3. Engage in occasional bouts of intense training
Varying your intensity when you workout maximises the fat burning and fitness boosting effects of exercise.
Short, regular bursts of intense effort, known as interval training, can even target abdominal fat stores.
An Australian study found that 3 x 20 minute interval training sessions per week over 3 months helped volunteers reduce their level of visceral fat by 17%. Visceral fat is located just under the abdominal muscles around the internal organs and is linked with a number of chronic illnesses.
The take-home: Interval training allows you to burn more belly fat in less time.
It works well for running, rowing, cycling, swimming and cardiovascular exercise machines such as an elliptical trainer. Ease into interval training over a month or 2 if you are unfit, building up to 3 interval training sessions a week.
4. Avoid long hours of sitting
An ever increasing reliance on screen based work and entertainment means that people are spending longer portions of their time in a chair.
Prolonged sitting sends your fat-burning hormones into hibernation, and can trigger postural problems that compromise your digestion, circulation and spine health.
A 2005 study on Australian adults in full-time employment found that the more time men spent sitting, the higher their odds of being overweight.
Sitting is also associated with other fat-storing behaviours, such as inactivity, distracted eating, and an increased consumption of junk foods.
The take-home: Your waistline prefers you to spend less time on your bottom.
Look for ways to move more and counteract the health dangers of sitting, such as:
- Standing while talking on the phone
- Walk over to an office colleague instead of emailing them
- Go for a short walk during your lunch break
- Don’t sit idle for longer than 30 minutes without standing or stretching for a few seconds
5. Get enough sleep
There is a surprisingly strong relationship between sleep and body fat.
Lack of sleep leaves you feeling sluggish, making it hard to motivate yourself to exercise or prepare healthy meals. It can also trigger hormonal changes that promote hunger and inhibit weight loss. Double yikes.
Sleep deprivation causes the body to produce less of the hormone that indicates fullness (serotonin), and more of the hormone that raises your appetite (grehlin). There is also research that suggests that lack of sleep can cause the body to store fat in the belly. A 2013 study found that men with disturbed sleep had higher levels of abdominal visceral fat.
The take-home: Improving both your sleep quality and quantity has a positive impact on your body shape.
Belly-loving sleep habits include:
- going to bed early
- sleeping in a cool, dark room
- avoiding alcohol and caffeine close to bed time
- exercising in the daytime so you feel physically tired at night