One of the biggest complaints that I see in menopausal women is excess belly fat. Exercise plays an important role in reducing menopause belly fat. Keep reading to discover which exercises help the most (hint: it’s not the same for every woman).
In one of my most popular articles I’ve discussed what causes menopause belly fat. Each woman is different and may see belly fat caused more by one or the other of these reasons. One of the biggest problem is that the hormone changes make women’s bodies try to hold onto belly fat. That means that it is not a simple plan of eating less and exercising more. In this article I will discuss how several different types of exercise can help reduce the belly fat.
For an exercise to be effective at reducing belly fat it has to help the body burn fat or target the hormones that are contributing to the belly fat.
You can either burn calories and fat directly with your exercise choice or do exercises that increase the amount of fat you burn on a regular basis. I will discuss how each type of exercise helps with fat loss in this way.
Hormones have a lot to do with fat being stored in the belly. Chronically high cortisol levels, insulin resistance, leptin resistance and thyroid disorders can all cause belly fat storage even when you are exercising and eating right. I will explain how each type of exercise can help reduce or contribute to belly fat.
I will start with the one type of exercise that doesn’t help.
Exercises to strengthen your abdominal muscles and other core muscles are great. They improve posture, help to prevent injuries and improve your balance. But they don’t help to reduce belly fat.
I know, the first thing you find when looking for exercises for belly fat are abdominal exercises. It seems to make sense. The problem is that these exercises are working the muscles in the belly and are not very effective at burning the fat.
This doesn’t mean that abdominal exercises shouldn’t be part of your exercise plan. They should. But focus on them for reasons other than fat loss.
Steady state cardio exercises
Steady state cardio means doing a repetitive exercise like running, cycling or using a cardio machine for a period of time without varying the intensity. This type of exercise can be a good option for women who need overall fat loss.
With steady state cardio you want to be working in a range of about 75 – 85% of maximum heart rate. This is different from the fat burning zone that you may see on gym equipment. At the higher intensity you will burn more calories overall and this will lead to more effective fat loss than working at a lower intensity.
Too much high intensity cardio can lead to higher cortisol levels which can contribute to belly fat so it is best to mix up workouts, especially if you have other symptoms of chronically high cortisol. On the other hand moderate intensity cardio, especially if outdoors, can help to lower cortisol levels. Steady state cardio cardio for long periods of time can also lead to muscle loss which decreases the metabolism.
Strength training has different advantages when it comes to fat loss. It helps to increase muscle. More muscle helps to increase your metabolism which means you will burn more fat even when you are not exercising. In fact the age related decline in metabolism is partly caused by muscle loss.
Resistance training increases insulin sensitivity. Cortisol is increased in the short term (during exercise) with resistance training, but it is not increased, and may be decreased, in the long term. This means that resistance training should help to decrease belly fat.
High intensity interval training
When it comes to belly fat high intensity interval training has many positive effects. It has been shown to increase overall fat loss more than moderate intensity steady state cardio. One of the reasons for this is that it increases your metabolism even after you have completed your workout. It is also more efficient than steady state cardio. A short high intensity workout can be very effective. High intensity interval training doesn’t lead to muscle loss.
However, too much high intensity training can increase overall cortisol levels. If you are already stressed out, then this may not be helpful in reducing belly fat. HIIT workouts do help to regulate blood sugar levels which means lower belly fat. My recommendation is to include some HIIT in your workout plan, but don’t rely on it for all of your exercise.
At the other end of the spectrum from high intensity interval training is walking. Walking can be an effective way of losing belly fat. Walking burns a reasonable amount of fat, especially if you walk at a brisk pace and include some hills. It is not as efficient at burning calories as higher intensity exercise like running or cycling, so you will have to go for longer to burn as much fat.
Walking, especially when it is in nature, helps to reduce stress and helps you sleep better. Both of these contribute to weight gain and to belly fat. If you suffer from fatigue like many menopausal women do then a more relaxing and gentle workout might be the place to start. Walking can also be included with other forms of exercise.
Yoga comes in many forms and can be a high intensity calorie burning effort or a relaxing stress relieving session. It can also help to build muscle. If you do poses like plank and downward facing dog you can help to build muscle in your upper body.
Yoga helps to lower cortisol levels, improve insulin resistance and even improve thyroid hormone levels. If you choose a gentle form of yoga, like walking, it can be a good form of exercise for women with low energy levels.