WELLNESS
12/22/2014 06:29 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2014

An Unexpected Exercise That Targets Belly Fat

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images

By now, you probably know that upping the ante on your core workouts won't unveil the six-pack abs of your dreams. It's simply impossible to reduce body fat in a specific area, no matter how much you curse that little something extra around your middle.

However, that doesn't mean that strength training doesn't have a benefit for that belly. In a new study, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that men who completed 20 minutes of weight training a day saw a smaller increase in belly fat than men who spent the same amount of time sweating it out in a cardio workout.

"Engaging in resistance training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass," lead author Rania Mekary, a HSPH nutrition researcher said in a statement.

More than 10,000 men were included in Mekary's study, published online in the journal Obesity, which analyzed data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study over a 12-year period. Over those 12 years, the men who added more weight training to their days saw their waistlines grow less than those who added more aerobic exercise or more low-intensity activity, like yard work, to their days. Surprising absolutely no one, men who added more sedentary time to their days over the 12 years saw bigger gains to their midsections.

Excess belly fat is of particular concern because of its link to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other conditions. But, because it's impossible to target fat around the midsection, the best solution is to reduce body fat overall. When it comes to whether weight training or aerobic exercise is the best way to do that, it seems that a combination of both is the winning way to lose.

"This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly," Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and senior author of the study, said in a statement. "To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise."

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