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The Ultimate Workout for a Flat Stomach, According to Science

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Want to burn off belly fat? You’ll have better luck pumping it off: People who did twenty minutes of daily weight training gained less fat around their abdomen than those who spent the same amount of time on cardio, according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health. (Already lifting weights, but not seeing results? It may be one of these 6 Reasons You’re Not Losing Belly Fat.)

As you age, your muscle mass typically diminishes while fat increases (unfair!). Women in particular often fill out in their belly with age because of decreasing levels of estrogen (which influences where fat is distributed in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic). Harvard researchers followed the workout and weight gain patterns of 40-year-old-and-up men over 12 years and found that those who pumped iron for at least 20 minutes every day avoided gaining the spare tire around the middle compared to men who spent the same amount of time on aerobic exercise. (Lose the Pooch! The Best Exercises for Lower Abs.) 

“Although we did not look at women, we certainly predict similar results in women,” says study author Rania Mekary, Ph.D., researcher in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. The mechanism is gender neutral: Strength training causes greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) than pure cardio, meaning your body continues to burn calories for up to 48 hours after lifting weights. And while the study looked at daily workouts, you don’t have to be a gym rat to see the benefits: People should target all muscle groups at least once per week, and intersperse aerobic activity on other days, Mekary suggests.

This news is helpful for more than just your bikini bod: People with fat around their abdomen are at greater risk of developing hypertension compared to people with fat elsewhere on their bodies, according to a study from the American College of Cardiology earlier this year. (See other Belly Fat Dangers for Normal-Weight Women.) 

Never lifted weights before? Start with The Easiest Strength Training Plan Ever! If you’re a pro iron pumper, kick it up a notch with 8 Total-Body Moves that Double Results—in Half the Time! 


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