There’s a picture somewhere in my home showing me part-way through a 180 mile run from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu. I’m 22, the lightest I’ve ever been, before and since, and guess what? I still have a little belly fat!
Now not all belly fat is equal. That little tummy in my old picture is my store of essential body fat. It protected my organs and gave me a little reserve to cope with such high mileage. I was on a “see food eat” diet at the time, eating anything and everything I could get my hands on just to maintain my body weight.
I certainly had a 6-pack at the time but it was covered over by a layer of subcutaneous fat. Without this reserve, I doubt I would have made it to Kathmandu on this record breaking run.
Now a little belly fat can be a good for you – your own personal energy store. But as that belly grows it can start to seriously damage your health. So let’s look into the different types of belly fat and find out if running with help shift the unwanted excess…
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The Two Types Of Belly Fat
Not all fat is equal and when it comes to belly fat there are two types of fat we need to know about:
- Subcutaneous – the layer that sits under the skin.
- Visceral – fat that lies out of reach beneath the abdominal wall.
Subcutaneous fat is the wobbly bits you can see. Too much and you don’t look so great at the beach but it’s less of a problem for your health.
It’s the visceral fat that gets doctors worried. It’s the fat stored in the spaces around our organs. A little provides some protection. A lot and the space becomes packed tight pushing out your waistline. The classic beer belly look.
The Health Risk Of Visceral Fat
Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is often thought of as a “passive” fat store waiting patiently until it’s needed, visceral fat is very active.
It acts like a gland releasing free fatty acids into the liver, pancreas, heart and other organs. The free fatty acids build up in cells not designed to store fat and the consequences are organ dysfunction; impaired regulation of insulin, blood sugar, and cholesterol, as well as abnormal heart function. Source: Harvard Medical School – Abdominal Obesity And Your Health.
Basically it’s really bad news and excess visceral fat is linked to:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer.
There’s probably other risks but that’s enough to get me sucking in my stomach and wondering if I’m at risk.
What Is Too Much Belly Fat?
Like most things body image related, there’s a big chasm between the medical guidelines and a desire to flaunt the coveted six pack.
FYI most of us have six packs. They just happen to be covered by a layer of subcutaneous fat. No amount of stomach crunches will make a difference. That layer of fat will just sit there covering your fantastic abs.
If you want to be in the next Mr or Mrs Universe competition this is the wrong site for you. Love Life Be Fit is about being healthy and enjoying life. Chasing extremely low levels of body fat will suck the fun out of anyone.
From a health point of view, around 25% body fat for women and 20% for men is a good target. Your mates will think you look good and your doctor will stop giving you grieve.
Current health guidelines like to use BMI or waist measurements which can both be misleading. You can check the guidelines here. Or you can get a rough estimate of your body fat percentage with this calculator.
Can I Lose Belly Fat By Running?
Running is one of the best ways of burning calories. You need to burn 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound in weight. Running one mile will burn approximately 100 calories.
Run 5 miles a day, everyday and you can lose 1 pound a week. Easy huh?
It’s easy if you’re a 20 year old male and just about any change to your lifestyle will see you burning up those pounds. For the rest of us “Will running burn belly fat?” gets a maybe at best.
The problem is your calorie intake – the food you put in your mouth. It’s estimated Americans have an average intake of 3600 calories a day and Europe isn’t far behind.
Compare that with the daily recommended guidelines; 2000 calories a day for women and 2500 calories a day for men. If you’re an adult woman putting away 3600 calories of food a day, you’d need to run 16 miles every day just to maintain your weight!
Will Running Burn Belly Fat?
My gut feeling is there’s something wrong with this argument. I’m sure if my body could cope with running 16 miles a day, (and it has for short periods in the past), I would be able to eat ANYTHING and still lose weight.
I spent 3 months at Everest Base Camp once eating copious amounts of M&M’s and still lost weight. The mess tent was stacked with goodies and the team ate constantly. (Spend time at altitude and you will lose weight. The best weight fix I know is trekking in Nepal).
It’s just that if you’re eating a high calorie diet and only run short distances, it’s not going to be enough. It’s important to watch what you eat.
What About Spot Reduction?
The idea you can target fat loss in a specific area is a myth. Stop doing those stomach crunches now! They don’t work. Great for toning your muscles but abdominal exercises won’t get rid of the overlying subcutaneous fat or the visceral fat lying deep within your belly.
There are no quick fixes. You have to work on reducing your overall body fat percentage.
There is some good news. Visceral fat may be the most dangerous but it’s also the easiest to lose. It’s the first fat store to be depleted when you start losing weight. It responds better to diet and exercise than fat on the hips and thighs.
The Best Way To Burn Belly Fat
Running will burn belly fat as part of a diet and exercise plan. Watching what you eat, switching out high calorie foods for fruit and vegetables and increasing your exercise level will make a big difference to your health.
Small changes could be all in takes to go from the slow creep of constantly gaining weight to losing 1 pound a week.
This might not sound very much but gradually losing weight and keeping it off permanently is always going to be better than following a crash diet. Lose weight too fast and your body adapts by going into starvation mode and messing with your metabolism.
Will running burn belly fat fast? It’s certainly one of the best exercises to combine with a healthy diet if you want to lose weight. Getting enough sleep and reducing stress levels are also important when you’re trying to lose belly fat.
It’s best to make some small changes to your diet and activity levels and track if they’re working. If not, adjust your calorie intake, increase your exercise intensity and build in strength training sessions.
Have you recently taken up running? I’d love to know how you got on?
Running burns approximately 100 calories per mile so it’s a good way to build up a calorie deficit. Completing 5 miles a day will burn 3500 calories a week which equates to 1 pound of fat. Running will only burn belly fat if you also control your calorie intake recommended at 2000 calories a day for women and 2500 for men.
Running burns the most calories per hour making it the best form of exercise to reduce belly fat. Yet if you’re short of time High Intensity Interval Training HIIT is a good option. The higher intensity will increase your calorie burn per minute and is an excellent metabolism booster. It’s not possible to target belly fat directly. Those stomach crunches may strengthen your abs but you won’t be able to see them unless you reduce your overall body fat percentage.
To lose belly fat you need to reduce your overall body fat percentage. Specifically targeting belly fat won’t work. Exercise and diet are the only solution. Running is the best exercise for burning calories and combined with controlling your calorie intake is the most effective way to lose weight. Aim for a slow and steady weight loss of 1 pound per week to lose weight and keep it off permanently. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and find ways to minimize stress. Stress and sleep deprivation can sabotage your weight loss goals.