There are four keys to controlling belly fat: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.
Exercise: Vigorous exercise trims fat, including visceral fat. It can also slow down the build-up of visceral fat that tends to happen over the years. But forget spot-reducing. There aren't any moves you can do that specifically target visceral fat.
Half an hour of vigorous aerobic exercise, done four times a week is ideal.
Jog, if you're already fit, or walk briskly at an incline on a treadmill if you're not yet ready for jogging. Vigorous workouts on stationary bikes and elliptical or rowing machines are also effective, says Duke researcher Cris Slentz, PhD.
Moderate activity – raising your heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times per week – also helps. It slows down how much visceral fat you gain. But to torch visceral fat, your workouts may need to be stepped up.
“Rake leaves, walk, garden, go to Zumba, play soccer with your kids. It doesn’t have to be in the gym,” Hairston says.
If you are not active now, it's a good idea to check with your health care provider before starting a new fitness program.
Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first.
A fiber-rich diet may help. Hairston’s research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day -- without any other diet changes -- build up less visceral fat over time than others. That’s as easy as eating two small apples, a cup of green peas, or a half-cup of pinto beans.
“Even if you kept everything else the same but switched to a higher-fiber bread, you might be able to better maintain your weight over time,” Hairston says.
Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut eye helps. In one study, people who got six to seven hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept five or fewer hours per night or eight or more hours per night. Sleep may not have been the only thing that mattered -- but it was part of the picture.
Stress: It’s unavoidable, but what you do with your stress matters.