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Banish Your Belly

Why it's so important to tame tummy flab­ and how to get started

Less Food, More Activity continued...

But she cautions against drinking too many caffeinated beverages, which also have a diuretic effect: "You'll get rid of fluids but you'll also be losing iron and calcium."

Exercising is an important part of losing weight, but you don't have to become a gym rat, says fitness expert Mare Petras, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Swimsuit Shoppers. In fact, she urges that you think "physical activity" rather than "exercise."

"Look for activities which burn excess fat and increase muscle mass," says Petras. That could mean walking your dog, riding your bike, putting on your favorite CD and dancing around the house -- or just doing chair squats whenever you think about it. "Try 10 every two hours and before you know it, you've logged in 50 squats," Petras says.

"The key to banishing your belly is consistent, moderate aerobic activity," says Petras. "It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing ... just do something."

Cardiovascular (aerobic) activity will burn more calories per session than weight training, says Comana. But he adds that the body expends extra calories after a weight training session, so it's good to combine both types of activity.

Toning Up

Along with aerobic and strength-training activities, ab-specific exercises can help tone your abdominal muscles. Strong abs help support your back and make everyday activities easier. And once you lose some of the fat layer covering your abs, your tummy-tightening efforts will really show.

In a recent American Council on Exercise study, researchers looked at 13 of the most common abdominal exercises and ranked them best to worst. Among the most effective were the "bicycle" maneuver, the captain's chair (a piece of gym equipment in which you lift your bent legs toward your upper body), crunches done on an exercise ball, crunches done with the legs held vertically, and reverse crunches (lying in crunch position, raise your bent legs toward your shoulders).

For best results, the study's lead researcher, Peter Francis, PhD, recommends doing several of these exercises for five minutes a day.

Finally, it can't hurt to manage your stress.

"Identify what's stressing you out, and then find out what works for you in relieving that stress," Talbott says. Yoga works for some, meditation for others. Your stress reliever may be golf, swimming, or simply a long soak in the tub.

Losing your tummy takes a multi-pronged approach that includes diet, exercise, and stress management, Talbott says.

"Women tend to want to diet, and men tend to want to exercise," Talbott says. "But you need all three pieces to make this work."

Reviewed on July 08, 2005

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