Crunches, balance boards, yoga for your core—you could devote your life to exercises that supposedly target your abs, yet still watch your waistline spread. So what’s the smartest approach for targeting this trouble spot? A new study suggests daily weight training.
Harvard University researchers found that men who did 20 minutes of weight training a day packed on the least amount of belly fat, compared to men who did cardio workouts or steered clear of the weight room completely, according to the study, published in Obesity.
Ab fat carries some pretty big health risks: The larger your waist circumference, the higher your odds of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. With this in mind, the research team set out to discover how different types of physical activity change a person’s body weight and waist circumference over time, especially for older adults, who tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat with age.
They accessed data on 10,500 men age 40 and older collected during a previous 12-year study. The findings: Men who added 20 minutes of weight training a day to their cardio routine gained less belly fat, compared with men who did no weight training but boosted their time doing cardio, outdoor work, or just being sedentary.
While weight training was the determining factor when it came to lower waist circumference, lead author Rania Mekary, Ph.D., said in a news release that weight training and cardio is the best anti-pooch combo. “Engaging in resistance training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise, could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass,” said Mekary, a researcher in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
Why did weight training lead to the smallest gain in stomach fat? The research team theorized that working out with weights builds muscle mass and decreases fat levels all across the body, which gives metabolism a boost—and thus results in less belly fat.
The study had its limitations: It included only men, and it focused on prevention, not how to get rid of stubborn stomach pooch you may already have. Still, it’s welcome news if you’re hoping to avoid belly fat in the future. And yep, it’s more backup that crunches alone aren’t the answer.