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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Exercise


How many sit-ups does it take to reduce belly fat? Answer: zero

Media contact: Debbie Johnson, Senior Writer, University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group,

Story source: Stephen D. Ball, State Specialist & Associate Professor, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, University of Missouri


With all the gadgets and gizmos available that promise six-pack abs, you might think we should be a nation of strapping Adonises. Instead, the current U.S. obesity epidemic would indicate otherwise.


Stephen Ball, University of Missouri Extension exercise physiologist, says sit-ups and crunches will tighten your abdominal muscles, but you will still have the same layer of fat sitting on top of those muscles.


“Exercise equipment manufacturers mislead us with flashy infomercials showing beer bellies transforming into defined midriffs with the use of simple devices...usually in just minutes a day!” Ball said.


Researchers have demonstrated that spot reduction leaves our spots unreduced.


The American Council on Exercise compared fat deposits in the arms of high-level tennis players. If spot reduction worked, the playing arm of a tennis player would have less fat than the inactive arm. The investigators found more muscle in the athletes’ playing arm, but there was no difference in the fat deposits between the two arms.


“Doing those types of exercises will strengthen those muscles,” Ball said. “You will build muscles there, but you’re likely not losing body fat in that area.”


Aerobic exercises like bicycling, jogging or running are the best way to lose body fat, Ball says. These exercises raise your heart rate and cause your body to draw upon its fat stores for energy. This, and a sensible diet, will help shrink those problem spots over time.


However, success at getting rid of fat bulges depends on where they’re located.


“Men typically store fat around their stomach and have an apple-shaped body type. Women tend to store fat in their hips, thighs and buttocks and appear more pear-shaped,” Ball said. (It is possible for these fat storage roles to be reversed, Ball notes. Fat storage in the body is based on our own individual genetic code that we inherit through our ancestors.)


The places where the body stores fat can affect health, Ball says.


“The good news for women is lower body fat is not associated with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes or other health issues. The bad news is it takes longer to lose lower body fat and is often the last place fat is lost, Ball said. “The good news for men is fat stored around the stomach is easier to lose, because the body readily uses it for energy. The bad news is fat stored around the stomach puts men at a greater risk for developing heart disease and other health issues.”


Bottom line, there is no device or magic bullet for getting into shape. According to Ball, a combination of strength exercises, aerobic exercise and a sensible diet will, over time, put you on the road to health and fitness.


This story can also be found on the MU Extension News site.


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Last update: Monday, April 25, 2011