(NaturalNews) The warm weather is here, and if you're like most people, that means you're hoping for a not-too-difficult way to shed some pounds and tighten your belly fat. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to get a better-looking belly without the need for costly equipment or heavy weights -- and you can do these exercises in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Here's the skinny:
When you tighten your belly fat, what you're really doing is tightening your abdominal muscles while shedding the fat that's on top of them. It's that fat that's loose and jiggly, and unless you get rid of excess fat, you'll never be able to see those tight, toned abs underneath.
Ab exercises offer benefits beyond the way that your belly looks: Getting stronger abs can help reduce back pain and strain and even help reduce fatigue. Plus, shedding belly fat is important for warding off serious health conditions that have been linked with excessive abdominal fat, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (1) Why is belly fat so bad? The fat that accumulates around your belly is easily broken down and absorbed into the blood, traveling to the liver where it increases the production of triglycerides and so-called "bad" cholesterol, both of which have been implicated in an array of diseases and medical conditions. It also works to upset the balance between blood sugar and insulin, which can result in diabetes and metabolic problems. According to the National Institute on Aging, some studies have even linked excess belly fat to dementia. (2)
So, when it comes to exercises that tighten your belly fat, ideally you want exercises and activities that accomplish two goals -- ridding the body of excess belly fat while also toning and tightening the muscles underneath. Here are five ways to do just that:
Rolling crunches Unlike the old sit-ups of phys ed class, this exercise doesn't cause strain on your lower back. Begin by lying flat on the floor with your lower back pressed against the floor for support. With your hands behind your head, begin as though you're performing a sit-up, rolling your shoulders upward and forward and gently lifting your legs, bending them and rocking them toward your chest. If you can't lift your head far -- or at all -- that's OK; start with just the roll until you build up your strength. Repeat 10 times.
Lunge twist Combine the power of a forward lunge with the waist-whittling motion of the torso twist: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, lunge forward with your right leg and gently rotate your upper body to the right. Move back to starting position and repeat with the left leg, performing 8 to 10 reps on each side.
Squat jump Stand as in the lunge twist and squat down as though you're sitting in a chair. Now jump straight up, raising both arms straight over your head. Land in the squat position and repeat 12 times.
Alternate hop Standing as for the lunge twist, put your hands on your hips. Now step forward using your left leg while raising your right leg up to a 90-degree angle. The effect is as if you're getting ready to take a giant step with the right leg. Now jump straight up on your left foot, landing with both feet together. Do eight for each leg.
Side leg kicks Tone the obliques -- the side muscles responsible for your love handles -- with this exercise: Lie on your right side with your legs together and straight. Prop your upper body on your elbow, placing your lower arm on the floor in front of you to help you balance. Place your left hand lightly on the floor in front of you. Now, keeping your toes flexed, raise your left leg a few inches and slowly swing it forward as far as you can while counting to two, then swing it back as far as you can while counting to two. Return to the start position but keep your left leg raised -- don't rest it in between reps. Repeat six times and then switch legs.
These exercises can help you tone your muscles and burn fat, but to really ramp up your fat loss, add in some cardio. A study from researchers at the University of Virginia revealed that adding intense workouts to more moderate workouts significantly increased the rate at which fat was burned off. (3)
Like any exercise program, start slowly- - especially if you don't regularly exercise. And, of course, be sure to see your doctor first to make sure that you're healthy enough to begin a regular exercise program.