Pop quiz: Two women go for a walk. One finishes quickly; the other takes her time. They each burn about 400 calories. So who sheds more belly fat? The obvious answer: It's a tie.
But a surprising new study shows that the fast walker actually loses more. Researchers from the University of Virginia found that women who did three shorter, fast-paced walks a week (plus two longer, moderate-paced ones) lost 5 times more abdominal fat than those who simply strolled at a moderate speed 5 days a week, even though both groups burned exactly the same number of calories (400) per workout. The speedsters also dropped more than 2 inches from their waistlines, pared about 3 times more fat from their thighs, shed 4 times more total body fat, and lost almost 8 pounds over 16 weeks—all without dieting!The improvements didn't stop there. The high-intensity exercisers lost about 3 times more visceral fat—the dangerous belly fat that wraps around organs such as the liver and kidneys and has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. "Vigorous exercise raises levels of fat-burning hormones," says lead researcher Arthur Weltman, PhD, director of the exercise physiology laboratory at the university. It also increases afterburn (the number of calories your body uses postexercise as it recovers) by about 47 percent compared with lower-intensity workouts.
So how do you make all this science work for you? Start with our 8-week progressive walking plan, which includes both shorter, high-intensity workouts and longer, moderate-paced ones. Add in the Flat Belly sculpting moves to firm your ever-shrinking middle. In just 2 months, you could walk off 1 or 2 sizes—without dieting!
Then celebrate your success by joining Team Prevention to walk a full or a half marathon. Our 8-Week Plan will prime you for the challenge while flattening your belly, and our Walk-a-Marathon (or Half) Training will keep you on track to get in your best shape possible.
The Experts: Tracey Staehle, a certified trainer in Simsbury, CT, and creator of the Walking Strong DVD, designed the belly sculpting workout. Prevention Fitness Director Michele Stanten created the marathon training plans.
Walking a Marathon (or Half) Taught Me...
Not to shy away from a challenge. "The training has given me more self-discipline and convinced me that other things in life probably aren't as bad as they first seem, either. It also reminded me that I actually like being outside; how good it feels to breathe deep, relaxed breaths; and that sweating is quite nice when accompanied by a feeling of accomplishment."
—Lisa Hollingsworth (far l.), 40, Washington, DCWalkers are athletes, too! "Sometimes I felt silly mentioning what I was working toward, especially around 'real' athletes, because I was only doing half of the marathon and only walking it. But when I crossed the finish line and received my medal and blanket just like the runners, I knew I deserved to be there, too. Next year, I plan to walk the half again—only faster!"
—Anne Reilly, 46, Lancaster, PADoing something for myself is good for my family! "The guilt I felt over not spending all my time with my family was completely unfounded. My 5-year-old son, Jacob, told his class that I was in a race and was going to win a gold medal. When I showed him my medal, he held it as if it were the most precious thing in the world and said, 'I love you, Mom. You're my hero.'"
—Rebecca Renicker, 33, Dover, OH
I want to be fit, not skinny. "I am in the best shape of my life, even though I am still overweight. I've lost 48 pounds so far, I've increased my endurance, and I look more toned than ever before."
—Pamela McNab, 45, Fredericksburg, VA
You're never too old. "Walking marathons keeps my fitness program fresh—turns out I can do a lot more than I thought I could. I did my first marathon at age 73 and completed my third last November on my 75th birthday, each with one of my three children."
—Sara Burneson (with son Lee), 75, Westlake, OH