Getty ImagesSick of crunches? So are we. Luckily, abdominal exercises alone do not a flat belly make. In fact, there are loads of little things-from what you drink to the way you handle stress-that can make or break your middle. Here are 9 easy ways to start shrinking without crunching.
1. Calm down. Too much stress can contribute to a potbelly. Stress increases levels of cortisol, a hormone that seems to direct fat to our middle, says Jacob Seidell, PhD, of the National Institute of Public Health in Bilthoven, Netherlands. To keep levels low, try this 5- to 10-minute stress reducer: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Next, take several slow, deep breaths to help clear your mind. Continue breathing deeply and repeat the word one to yourself as you exhale. (If you get distracted, just bring your focus back to the word one.) Practice this for 5 to 10 minutes once or twice a day.
2. Skip the alcohol for a week or so. That glass of wine with dinner may be part of the reason your jeans are too tight. Alcohol also tends to raise cortisol levels, sending fat to your belly, Seidell says.
3. Stop smoking. "It keeps me thin," proclaim many smokers. But the truth is that smokers tend to have more abdominal fat than nonsmokers, says Seidell. (The stress hormone cortisol seems to be the culprit here too.) "When people stop smoking, the amount of abdominal fat actually decreases," he says.
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4. Eat more fiber. Not only is fiber great for overall weight loss (it fills you up so you don't eat as much), but it also prevents constipation, which can cause your tummy to bulge, says Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. To stay regular, aim for 22 to 25 g of fiber a day by eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
5. Drink up. For premenstrual bloating, drink lots and lots of water. This will actually help flush away bloating, not make it worse
6. Keep bones strong. Osteoporosis can lead to fractured bones in your spine, causing you to slump. That shortens your abdominal cavity, giving your belly no place to go but out, says Willibald Nagler, MD, physiatrist in chief emeritus at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Be sure to get 1,000 mg of calcium every day from the foods you eat and/or from supplements.
7. Get your heart rate up. All the ab exercises in the world won't do a thing unless you get rid of the fat hiding your abdominal muscles. The best way is to do aerobic exercise for 45 to 60 minutes, 5 times a week.
Download this 8-minute fat blasting workout
8. Tuck your tummy. Imagine there's a magnet pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Practice the tuck until it becomes comfortable, and soon it will come naturally--like breathing. Do it every chance you get.
9. Get a bonus ab workout. Stand as much as possible when doing weight-lifting exercises. That way your abs work too. "They help to balance and stabilize your body," says Tammy Strunk, an Emmaus, PA, fitness instructor. Concentrate on keeping your abs tight and maintaining good posture, but don't hold your breath.
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