(NaturalNews) According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S., 69 percent of men and women over 20 years of age are overweight, and half of those are so overweight that they're considered clinically obese. (1) Much of the fat that we deal with is centered around our bellies, and the reason why has to do with age: As we get older, hormonal and metabolic shifts cause our midriffs to gain inches, and unless we do something to fight back, before we know it, we've packed on pounds and gained gallons of fat.
While any amount of excess fat can be unhealthy, putting a strain on all the body's organs, belly fat is especially harmful. Multiple studies have shown that excess abdominal fat causes significant increases in many types of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia. (2) And in an ironic twist, gaining a lot of weight can result in metabolic abnormalities that can actually make it much more difficult for you to lose that weight.
If you're one of the millions of men and women dealing with belly fat, take heart: While bidding belly fat goodbye used to mean hundreds of crunches, today's exercise gurus say there are better ways to get that flat belly you've been hoping for -- or at least to lose a few inches from your waist. Here are five ways you can burn belly fat beginning today:
Sit up straight
Yes, something as simple as maintaining good posture can actually help you burn belly fat. That's because good posture -- while sitting, standing and walking -- engages your core muscles, causing you to burn more calories than you do when you slouch or allow your central muscles to become lax. To gain the most benefits, concentrate on pulling your stomach muscles in while you're sitting or walking. Bonus: Since you can engage your core and tighten your stomach muscles while you sit, it's great for sitting in traffic jams or during long commutes on the bus or train -- even while sitting at your desk.
Yoga can also help you get more from your core. Even basic yoga postures -- or asanas -- require balance and stability that call your core muscles into play. Prevention.com recommends focusing on your breathing and concentrating on your body's position to increase balance and burn more calories. (3) Here are a couple to get you started:
Straight leg lift
Lie flat on your back, pressing your back against the floor. Holding your legs together, place a book between your thighs, using your thighs to hold it in place. Now, flexing your feet, lift your legs up into a 90-degree angle and hold for 30 seconds. Keeping your back against the floor, slowly lower your legs to the ground, stopping a few inches above the floor. Repeat 10 times (or as many times as you can).
Sounds like an unappetizing snack, but it's actually a great way to tone and stretch your abs and your back muscles. Lying flat on the floor, slowly bring your legs straight up, this time continuing the motion until your legs are over your head. Keep rolling your legs over your head as far as you can, aiming to have your toes touch the floor behind your head. Return to the legs-up position and repeat 10 times.
Yoga isn't the only type of exercise that engages the fat-burning core muscles; pilates moves can do the same thing, and like yoga, they don't require any special equipment. Here are two to round out our list of five foolproof ways to burn fat and tone your belly:
Bicycling - with a twist
Most of us are familiar with the exercise that looks like we're pedaling a bicycle upside down, but in pilates, the old standard is made a little more challenging: Lying on your back with your lower back pressed toward the floor for support, raise your knees at a 90-degree angle, so your calves are parallel to the floor. Put your hands behind your head and lift your head, neck and shoulders a few inches off the floor. Keep your elbows pointed out to the sides. Now rotate your torso to the left, bringing your left elbow toward the center of your body. At the same time, bring your right knee toward your left elbow while extending your right leg diagonally toward the ceiling. Repeat six times and switch sides.
Lie on the floor face-down with your forehead resting on your hands, feet slightly apart. Raising your head, shoulders and upper chest, rotate your upper body to one side and then back to center. Lower and repeat for the other side. Repeat six times for each side.
Not sure of the proper positions for these moves? You can find lots of helpful yoga and pilates videos on YouTube.
For these and any exercise, commitment and dedication are the keys to success. And of course, talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.