Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. What’s more, after analyzing 28 different studies, UK researchers found that people who slept 5.5 hours or less per night ate an extra 385 calories the day after compared to those who snoozed for at least 7 to 12 hours. On top of that, they preferred to munch on fatty foods full of empty calories, like chips.
You don’t have to take a three-month sabbatical in Bali or enrol on a ‘breathing class’ in a Scandi Yogi retreat to find inner calm. You don’t even have to meditate (though it’ll almost certainly help). If a few minutes of deep-belly breathing in a quiet spot doesn’t chill you out, try a bodyweight workout or taking a walk around the block. Exercise boosts your circulation, transporting cortisol to your kidneys, which flush it out.
When your cortisol levels are through the roof, it triggers the release of insulin, and this is where things go awry. Initially, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response shuts down your digestive system so you can deal with the “threat”, like a very hungry lion or, more realistically, heavy traffic on your way to work. Once the danger has passed, your body seeks to replenish the hundreds of calories you burned fighting to the death/swearing at rush hour traffic and makes you ravenously hungry.
Luckily, exercise can help spur things along when it comes to that pesky stomach fat. “Visceral fat responds well when… [you] start exercising and watching your calories and what you eat,” Harris-Pincus says. And while endless crunches aren’t your ticket to a flat stomach, it is still important to train your ab muscles. “Everything radiates from the center of your body – your balance, your posture, your functional movement,” says Joe Ardito, founder of Fit Crush NYC. “You can perform better when you have a strong core.”
And how often to work out to get rid of belly fat? Well, as you know, too much cortisol can counteract your belly fat loss efforts. Belalij suggests doing 30-minute sessions, three times per week. “As you start to lose belly fat your body will want to cling on more and more to what is left, so you must increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the more fat you lose,” Belalij says. And Hughes agrees: