If you’re “thick around the middle,” have a “beer belly,” or plagued by “love handles,” you might have reason to be concerned. It’s well established that all fat is not created equal. Abdominal fat is wrapped around our vital organs: the heart, liver, kidneys, etc. This fat is not just an inert blob but rather it is metabolically active, secreting various hormones that might affect the functioning of these organs. In contrast, subcutaneous fat lying just beneath the skin or peripheral fat in the arms, butt, and legs has less potential for harm.
Various products and techniques for spot-reducing to get rid of abdominal fat have been heavily promoted but lack any empirical validation. “Fat burners,” motorized belts that jiggle the flab, “thigh blasters,” etc., all promised to rid the body of unwanted fat. Likewise, specific exercises are tailored to reduce fat in a particular body part.
Years ago, when I first joined a gym, I made a beeline to the crunch machine because I wanted to get rid of my abdominal fat. After several months I worked up to 30 repetitions pulling all the weights on the machine but the result was that I had strong abdominal muscles surrounding the stubborn fat.
A new study from Finland suggests that, in contrast to previous research, there may be a specific exercise that can reduce abdominal fat. Half of the overweight participants used a 3.3 lb. weighted hula hoop for six weeks averaging 13 minutes per day and then walked an average of 10,000 steps each day for another six weeks. The other half of the participants did the same exercises only in reverse order.
There was no difference between the exercises in weight loss but the percentage fat in the central region decreased significantly from hula hooping. Using the hula hoop resulted in increased trunk muscle mass, decreased waist circumference (about 1.2 inches), and decreased LDL cholesterol. Walking was associated with lowered systolic blood pressure but no change in abdominal fat.
Although a 1.2-inch waist reduction might not result in a svelte figure, participants in the study only used the hula hoop for 13 minutes over six weeks; they might have lost more if they had continued hooping.
If you are going to try it, check the weight of the hoop. Commercially available hoops may be lighter than the hoops used in this study. Also, if you’re concerned because you tried hooping when you were a kid but had trouble keeping it up, try again with a weighted hoop. The added weight makes it easier to keep going but don’t try to set a world record (currently 100 hours). Start with five minutes daily and work up from there. Do it to music or while watching TV, make a game of it, and have fun.
Lahelma, M., Sadevirta, S., Lallukka-Bruck, S., et al. (2019). Effects of weighted hula-hooping compared to walking on abdominal fat, trunk muscularity, and metabolic parameters in overweight subjects: A randomized controlled study. Obesity Facts, 12, 385-396.