zen habits : breathe

6 Steps to Lose the Buddha (Belly)

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Sara Ost of www.healthbolt.net. Every Friday is Health Tip Day at Zen Habits.

The belly: it’s the first spot to get paunchy and the last place to look sleek. A tight core is the one thing we all want (possibly even more than another new online community).

Unfortunately, biology couldn’t care less about our six-pack fantasies, for the human body is built to treasure precious calories, and our midsections are especially talented at storing the excess ones. Couple our genetic predisposition to adiposity with the modern lifestyle of excessive calories and stress, and it’s no wonder a trim midsection eludes many of us!

No problem: my six steps will have you rockin’ a toned torso in no time. They worked for me. The best part? No sit-ups required!

  1. No more sit-ups! I’ve tried many ab gadgets and committed to several determined bouts of daily crunch torture on my road to fitness – and I never got anywhere. Sound familiar? Forget the isolated exercises. Many of the fittest people on earth – from Navy SEALs to professional athletes – never do a single sit-up and shun crunches. In fact, some military training guides actually discourage isolated abdominal exercises. There are many paths to sleek abs, so if crunches happen to work for you, please skip this post. I personally recommend following a fitness regimen that is comprehensive in nature. While isolated movements can tone individual muscle groups, for true core fitness, it’s better to do integrated exercises that strengthen your entire body – with defined abs being the happy side effect. Point 5 will explain this further, but two simple, highly-effective integrative exercises you can try are the standing weighted arm lift and the hot potato.
  2. Lose weight. (I know, I know!) Many fitness guides will instruct you in all manner of stomach exercises, and we’ve all seen those “sexy abs in just three minutes” infomercials! Save your money. Until you drop excess pounds, you simply won’t see your abs, whatever their state of fitness. (Yes, your abs – everyone has a natural six-pack under there somewhere!) Lose weight and your abs will show up quite nicely, even if you never do a single sit-up. Men generally need to maintain about 8-14% body fat; women should add 10 to that.
  3. Reduce empty calories drastically. Lose the belly roll by eliminating as many sources of empty calories from your diet as possible. Yes, this means carbs! Not only do empty calories prompt bouts of irritability, headaches, cravings, mood swings, and possible nutritional deficiencies, empty calories readily convert to fat in the midsection. If you’ve read Tim Ferris’s success story with the “slow carb” diet or heard of Atkins (and I know you have!), you already know where I’m going with this. Cutting empty carbohydrates and sugars out of your life will not only trim your middle; you’ll reduce your risk of diabetes, too. That said, I don’t think you have to become a bloodthirsty carnivore or suffer on low-carb beer for the rest of your life. That’s an approach that is certainly immoderate and definitely not healthy. But do cut back on refined, worthless calories from cakes, cookies, pastries, crackers, chips, big bowls of pasta, and white bread.
  4. Going a step further, eliminate all liquid calories. Most of us are aware that soda is full of nothing but sugar (or unhealthy sugar substitutes like corn syrup). But be mindful of drinking any calories. Many coffee drinks are essentially glorified milkshakes, and smoothies that contain ice cream and juice instead of real fruit and protein powder are no better. And while it’s commonly accepted that juice is healthy, I suggest cutting back. Even 100% juice is still going to spike your blood sugar. A real piece of fruit provides fiber and fills you up; juice just gives you extra calories you don’t need.
  5. Practice an integrative exercise system and get good at it. Beyond the vanity of wanting a taut middle, your health will benefit, too. What do I mean by an “integrative” exercise system? Anything that incorporates resistance, stretching and weight-bearing movement. Excellent choices are yoga, pilates, the Bar Method, martial arts, dance, boot camp classes, and any sports. I’ve had great personal success with yoga; after shedding the excess tummy pudge, it only took a few weeks of yoga for the abs to peek out. Furthermore, an integrative exercise program elongates your muscles, lubricates your joints, and releases the pressure that compacts your vertebral column. Better posture = better abs.
  6. Reduce stress, balance hormones. Did you know that a sluggish metabolism can often be perked up by switching from table salt to sea salt? (Iodine helps the thyroid gland, which plays a role in metabolism.) That’s just the beginning. Our hormones have a direct relationship to immunity, metabolism, and much more. And stress is a very sure way to disrupt healthy hormone regulation. If you’d like to know more about hormonal issues and the relationship to weight gain, please feel free to respond in the comments and I’ll provide some helpful links. Bottom line: reduce stress! It’s so important to find a way to reduce and manage any stress in your life (again with that yoga!). However you choose to handle stress, don’t shirk this aspect of weight management and health. Your abs are depending on you!

Sara Ost is the editor and sole content creator of www.healthbolt.net, the #1 health blog on the web; as well as the editor of the irreverent alternative health blog www.marksdailyapple.com (#38).

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