Flat Out Healthy

Five smart, safe ways to flatten your belly for summertime and beyond

How do I get a flatter stomach?

This is one of the questions Jessica Benton, an exercise specialist in the  Wellness Center at St. Joseph’s/Candler, hears the most. It has become somewhat of a perennial dilemma, aided by pressure in the media for us to look great in a swimsuit before the first day of summer even arrives. Benton has five suggestions that don’t include starving yourself or trying a fad diet pill.

“These are the top five ideas I give to everyone, no matter whether they are active or inactive, overweight or not,” Benton says.

Focus on the inner muscles. “Many people think that they need to focus on the rectus abdominis, or the ‘six-pack,’” Benton says. “But building only the muscles on top will make any fat layer poke out further. Instead, focus on the transversus adbdominis, the inner muscles that wraps around your core like a corset, pulling everything in and giving you better posture and a more tightened look. Ask your trainer or exercise specialist about plank exercises. These are some of the best exercises for this muscle group.”

HIIT ‘em up. “Doing hours of cardio exercises is not as effective at burning fat as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT,” Benton says. “There are many different ways to do HIIT, but one example is a 30-second sprint on the treadmill, recovering for two-minutes, and repeating that cycle maybe 10 or 12 times. The short burst of energy gets the heart rate up and then back down, providing a bigger calorie burn.”

Eat flat belly foods. “People are terrified of having fat in their diet because of the misconception that all fat is bad for you, but you need fat to keep your core and your stomach muscles in shape,” Benton advises. “Healthy fats give you energy and help you feel full. Monounsaturated fats, found in avocados, almonds, olive and coconut oil, are some of the best fats to eat when you are trying to tone your body. Saturated fats from cheese, milk and meat are okay in moderation. People should also try to add protein, the building block of muscles, to their diet. They should avoid foods with added sugars, which go straight to the gut.”

Manage stress. “When you’re stressed, your body is more likely to hold on to fat,” Benton says. “And your stomach is four times more likely than the rest of your body to be the part that holds it. Whatever your stressors are…money, work, family, time…you need to make managing stress a priority. Just taking breaks throughout the day may work for you, or you may need to add in something like yoga. I don’t recommend looking at stuff on your smartphone or watching TV as those activities don’t seem to provide true relaxation.”

Give your abs a rest. “Finally, people need to stop overworking their abdominals,” Benton says. “They are just like any other muscle group. If you want effective, healthy change in your abs, you need to give them a day of rest. You shouldn’t have to work your abs more than three times a week.”

Consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise program, and don’t get swept up in the mad dash to have the flattest belly by June. But successfully incorporate all five of these steps together and you will start to see results in 3-4 weeks.

“They all have to go together, though,” advises Benton. “You can’t do just one.”

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