TIME Exercise/Fitness

10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away

yellow-measuring-tape
Getty Images

The choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat

A little bit of belly fat is actually good for you: it protects your stomach, intestines, and other delicate organs. But too much fat is anything but healthy. Extra fat cells deep in your abdomen (aka visceral fat) generate adipose hormones and adipokines—chemical troublemakers that travel to your blood vessels and organs, where they cause inflammation that can contribute to problems like heart disease and diabetes. The good news? Every pound you shed can help reduce your girth. “Once women start losing weight, they typically lose 30% more abdominal fat compared with total fat,” says Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist at the Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago. Even better, the choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat. Here are 10 common pitfalls—and ways to undo each one.

Read more: 20 Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

You’re on a low-fat diet

To shed belly fat, it’s good to eat fat—specifically monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). When researchers in one study asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie, high-MUFA diet, they lost a third of their belly fat in a month. “MUFAs are satiating, so they help you eat fewer poor-quality foods,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.

Belly blaster: Have a serving of MUFAs—like a handful of nuts, a tablespoon of olive oil, or a quarter of an avocado—with every meal and snack.

Read more: 9 Low-Fat foods You Should Never Eat

You’ve been feeling blue for a while

Women with depressive symptoms were far more likely to have extra belly fat, found a recent Rush University Medical Center study. That may be because depression is linked to reduced physical activity and poor eating habits.

Belly blaster: Exercise! “It improves levels of brain chemicals that regulate metabolism of fat, as well as your mood,” Dr. Kazlauskaite says. This enhances your motivation to do other things that help ward off depression, like seeing friends. But if you’re so bummed out that you don’t want to do things you used to enjoy, it’s time to seek the help of a therapist.

Your food comes from a box

Simple carbs (like chips) and added sugar (in items like sweetened drinks) cause your blood sugar to spike, which triggers a flood of insulin—a hormone that encourages your liver to store fat in your middle.

Belly blaster: Instead of focusing on cutting out junk, center your efforts on adding in healthy fare (think extra servings of vegetables at each meal). As Dr. Katz says, “Filling your tank with high-quality fuel thwarts hunger.”

You’re skimping on the miracle mineral

Magnesium regulates more than 300 functions in the body. No surprise, then, that a 2013 study found that people who consumed more of it had lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

Belly blaster: At least twice a day, reach for magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, bananas, and soybeans.

You’re hooked on diet soda

A study in Obesity found that diet soda drinkers were more likely to have a high percentage of fat in their bellies. The researchers think that diet drinkers may overestimate the calories they’re “saving,” and then overeat.

Belly blaster: If you’re not ready to kick your habit, the researchers suggest reducing the number of food calories in your diet.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

You love burgers

When Swedish researchers gave one group of adults 750 extra daily calories, mainly from saturated fat, and another group the same amount of calories but mostly from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for seven weeks, the saturated fat group accumulated two times as much visceral fat.

Belly blaster: Dine on fatty fish like salmon or trout once a week to get a good dose of PUFAs. The rest of the time, reduce your intake of red meat and opt instead for protein low in saturated fat, such as legumes and chicken.

You think girls don’t get beer guts

According to a 2013 Danish study, beer may indeed be linked with abdominal obesity. And though beer appears to have the greatest impact, wine won’t save you from a spare tire: One study found that the amount of alcohol of any type that women drank contributed to weight gain.

Belly blaster: Stick with seven or fewer alcoholic beverages a week. Light to moderate drinkers are the least likely to carry excess weight anywhere, shows a recent Archives of Internal Medicine study.

You can’t recall when you last said “om”

Menopause-related hormonal changes (which typically begin in your 40s) make it harder to shed stomach pudge—but vigorous yoga can help offset the effects. A 2012 study found that postmenopausal women who did an hour-long yoga session three times a week for 16 weeks lost more than 1/2 inch around their waists.

Belly blaster: Not a fan of Sun Salutations? “Take an hour to do something nice for yourself,” which could help control your stress hormones, advises Sheila Dugan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Chicago.

Read more: Try This Flat-Belly Yoga Pose

Your meals are beige

Brightly colored fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamin C, which reduces cortisol. What’s more, a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate more of the nutrients in red, orange, and yellow produce had smaller waists as a result.

Belly blaster: Add color to your plate by topping fish with a mango salsa, or throw diced red pepper into your turkey meatballs.

Your sweat sessions don’t involve sweat

Research has shown that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—bursts of vigorous activity followed by short periods of gentle activity or rest—boasts belly-shrinking benefits. “High-intensity exercise seems to be more effective at reducing insulin, triglycerides, and cortisol, and it burns more calories in less time, too,” notes Shawn Talbot, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Belly blaster: If you enjoy biking or running, for example, accelerate to a pace that makes it hard to talk for two minutes; then slow down for a minute, and repeat until you’re done. Like resistance training? Try a series of moves like squats or push-ups for two minutes each with a 60-second break between them.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: What Diet Soda Does to Belly Fat

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

How Los Angeles Tried—and Failed—to Curb Obesity

dv1897014
Getty Images

A study finds that an L.A. law to cut back on fast food may not have worked

A Los Angeles law meant to improve obesity rates didn’t work out as planned, a new study shows.

In 2008, South Los Angeles passed an ordinance that restricted the opening or expansion of new stand-alone fast food restaurants, in hopes of making residents healthier. However, new research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine reveals that little happened to the diets and obesity rates of people living in the region.

The researchers looked at both the number of food outlets opening in the city, as well as data on neighborhood eating habits and weight. The number of residents who were overweight or obese increased from 2007 to 2012—including in South Los Angeles. Only sugary drink consumption dropped.

“Environmental change is slow, so we should not expect dramatic immediate effects,” the study authors write. But they acknowledge another explanation, too: that the ordinance didn’t target the outlets it should have. The researchers report that South Los Angeles is characterized by smaller food outlets or convenience stores rather than typical fast-food chains. Food outlets that were added since the ordinance looked similar to the outlets that were already there, the authors say.

“It would seem unlikely that changes in the food environment due to the regulation could have had a meaningful impact on dietary choices in South LA,” says study author Roland Sturm, a senior economist at the non-profit research organization RAND.

But the study authors note that in the long run, the fast-food ban could help effect change in a more symbolic way: by helping to shift the mindset of how residents of the area approach food.

TIME Food & Drink

Coke’s PR Strategy Is to Market Soda as a Healthy Snack

An American Icon at 100 exhibition at the High Museum of Art on February 26, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Paras Griffin—2015 Getty Images An American Icon at 100 exhibition at the High Museum of Art on February 26, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Coke works with nutrition experts who suggest its cola as a healthy treat

(NEW YORK) — If a column in honor of heart health suggests a can of Coke as a snack, you might want to read the fine print.

The world’s biggest beverage maker is working with fitness and nutrition experts who suggest its cola as a healthy treat. In February, for instance, several wrote online pieces for American Heart Month, with each including a mini-can of Coke or small soda as a snack idea.

The mentions — which appeared on nutrition blogs and other sites including those of major newspapers — show the many ways food companies work behind the scenes to cast their products in a positive light, often with the help of third parties who are seen as trusted authorities.

Ben Sheidler, a Coca-Cola spokesman, compared the February posts to product placement deals a company might have with TV shows.

“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” said Sheidler, who declined to say how much the company pays experts. “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.”

Other companies including Kellogg and General Mills have used strategies like providing continuing education classes for dietitians, funding studies that burnish the nutritional images of their products and offering newsletters for health experts. PepsiCo Inc. has also worked with dietitians who suggest its Frito-Lay and Tostito chips in local TV segments on healthy eating. Others use nutrition experts in sponsored content; the American Pistachio Growers has quoted a dietitian for the New England Patriots in a piece on healthy snacks and recipes and Nestle has quoted its own executive in a post about infant nutrition.

For Coca-Cola Co., the public relations strategy with health experts in February focused on the theme of “Heart Health & Black History Month.” The effort yielded a radio segment and multiple online pieces.

One post refers to a “refreshing beverage option such as a mini can of Coca-Cola.” Another suggests “portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans, packs of almonds or pre-portioned desserts for a meal.”

The focus on the smaller cans isn’t surprising. Sugary drinks have come under fire for fueling obesity rates and related ills, and the last time Coke’s annual U.S. soda volume rose was in 2002, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest. More recently, the company is pushing its mini-cans as a guilt-free way to enjoy cola. The cans also fetch higher prices on a per ounce basis, so even if people are drinking less soda, Coke says it can grow sales.

In a statement, Coca-Cola said it wants to “help people make decisions that are right for them” and that like others in the industry, it works with health experts “to help bring context to the latest facts and science around our products and ingredients.” It said any communications by the experts it works with contain the appropriate disclosures.

Most of the pieces suggesting mini-Cokes say in the bios that the author is a “consultant” for food companies, including Coca-Cola. Some add that the ideas expressed are their own. One column is marked at the bottom as a “sponsored article,” which is an ad designed to look like a regular story. It ran on more than 1,000 sites, including those of major news outlets around the country. The other posts were not marked as sponsored content, but follow a similar format.

Kelly McBride, who teaches media ethics at The Poynter Institute, said the phrasing of the disclosure that the author is a “consultant” for food companies, including Coca-Cola, doesn’t make it clear the author was specifically paid by Coke for the column.

“This is an example of opaque sponsored content,” McBride said.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a professional group for dietitians, says in its code of ethics that practitioners promote and endorse products “only in a manner that is not false and misleading.” A spokesman for the academy did not respond when asked if the posts on mini-Cokes meet those guidelines.

Meanwhile, a group called Dietitians for Professional Integrity has called for sharper lines to be drawn between dietitians and companies. Andy Bellatti, one of its founders, said companies court dietitians because they help validate corporate messages.

The message that Coke can be a healthy snack is debatable. Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University and a member of the nutrition committee at the American Heart Association, said a smaller can of soda might be a “move in the right direction” for someone who regularly drinks soda. Still, she wouldn’t recommend soda as a snack.

The health experts who wrote the pieces mentioning Coke stand by their recommendations.

Robyn Flipse, the dietitian who wrote the sponsored article for Coke, said she would suggest mini-cans of Coke even if she wasn’t being paid. Although she doesn’t drink soda herself, she said the smaller cans are a way for people who like soda to enjoy it sensibly.

“I absolutely think that I provided valuable information,” she said.

Flipse said the idea to mention mini-cans of Coke in the post was hers and came about after a public relations agency for Coke suggested a piece on heart health and asked what she might “work in.”

Flipse has worked with Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association for years; her roles have included sending out messages on social media refuting the idea that sugary drinks are to blame for obesity and making herself available as an expert for news outlets. If a story says something negative about artificial sweeteners, Flipse said she might contact the PR agency and ask, “Do you want me to do something about that?”

Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, a dietitian who wrote another piece mentioning mini- cans of soda, said it’s important that health professionals share their expertise with companies and that her work reflects her own views.

She said she could not recall if she was paid for her article mentioning mini-sodas.

Read next: San Francisco Lawmakers Take on Big Soda Again

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

This New Drug Turns ‘Bad’ White Fat Into ‘Good’ Brown Fat

GC-1 could have the potential to treat obesity and metabolic disease

Scientists claim they have found an experimental drug that turns “bad” white fat cells into “good” brown ones.

Known as GC-1, the drug speeds up metabolism, or the burning off of fat cells, reports Science Daily. Researchers found it caused weight loss in fat mice.

“GC-1 dramatically increases the metabolic rate, essentially converting white fat, which stores excess calories and is associated with obesity and metabolic disease, into a fat like calorie-burning brown fat,” said study author Kevin Phillips of the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Until recently, scientists thought only animals and human infants had these energy-burning “good” brown-fat cells.

“It is now clear that human adults do have brown fat, but appear to lose its calorie-burning activity over time,” Phillips added.

He calls white fat a “metabolic villain” when you have too much of it, whereas people with more brown fat have a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.

GC-1 works by activating receptors for the thyroid hormone, which help regulate how your body turns food into energy.

Phillips’ team tested the drug on hundreds of mice who were genetically obese or who had diet-induced obesity. They found genetically obese mice lost weight and nearly 50% of their fat mass in two weeks. Diet-induced obese mice also showed improvements.

The drug was also tested on white fat cells grown in a lab, and researchers say they found evidence that the drug turned white fat into the brown variety.

Phillips hopes the drug, which has not yet been tested on humans, has the potential to treat obesity and metabolic disease.

The results of the study will be presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego on Friday.

[Science Daily]

TIME medicine

One Hour of Sleep Makes a Difference In What You’ll Eat

169989154
Lynn Koenig—Getty Images/Flickr RF

When it comes to teens and sleep, it’s not how much sleep, but how consistently they sleep the same amount that’s important for their health

Plenty of studies have documented that teens don’t get enough sleep. They’re supposed to be in bed for eight to nine hours a night, but most get seven or less. Now the latest sleep research, presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting, shows when it comes to weight gain—which has been tied to sleep deprivation and disturbances—it’s not necessarily the amount of sleep that tips the scales but rather the consistency of that nightly rest.

Fan He, an epidemiologist at Penn State University College of Medicine, and his colleagues found a strong correlation between the variation in sleep patterns among a group of teens and the amount of calories they consumed. And for every hour difference in sleep on a night-to-night basis over a week, for example, they ate 210 more calories—most of it in fat and carbohydrates. Those with uneven sleep patterns were also more likely to snack.

Previous studies have linked poor or disrupted sleep to obesity; people not getting enough shut-eye, for example, may experience changes in the hormones that regulate appetite and how well they break down glucose in their diet. Levels of the hormone leptin, for instance, drop in those who are sleep deprived, and less leptin prompts the body to feel hungry.

MORE: The Power of Sleep

In the current study, however, all the teens got an average of seven hours a night, so it wasn’t as if some of the teens were sleeping for extremely long or short periods of time. Any metabolic changes they would have experienced due to their sleeping less than the recommended eight to nine hours would have been similar among the consistent and inconsistent sleepers.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center, stresses that good quality sleep involves three things — getting enough sleep, making sure the timing of the sleep if appropriate, and avoiding sleep disorders. While the amount of sleep has gotten the lion’s share of attention in recent years, a new phenomenon called social jet lag, which the current study investigates, may deserve equal consideration. “We live in a society of yo-yo sleep in which people sleep less because of social or work demands, then try to catch up,” says Watson. “There haven’t been a lot of studies that looked at what kind of impact this has on our health, but teenagers may be particularly susceptible to social jet lag than older adults, and this study assessed that.”

MORE: This Is What’s Keeping Teens From Getting Enough Sleep

These results show that it was the variability in their sleep that was most strongly linked to their eating habits.

Why? The researchers guess that teens who aren’t sleeping consistently are more likely to get too little sleep on one night, for example, and therefore be more tired or sedentary the following day, which leads them to sit around and eat more. It may also be possible that teens with irregular sleep habits are more likely to stay up later on weekends; He found that these adolescents had a 100% higher chance of snacking on weekends compared to those who slept more regularly.

MORE: School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Urge Doctors

That suggests that health experts should focus not just on the amount of sleep teens are getting, but on their sleep patterns. “Instead of focusing on how much we sleep, we also need to pay attention to maintaining a regular sleep pattern,” says He. Such consistency, however, may not be so easy for teens to master.

 

TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Ways a TV Binge Affects Your Body

flat-screen-tv
Getty Images

And how to fight each one

When a major show releases an entire season at once—we’re looking at you, House of Cards—it’s hard to resist devouring it all over a single weekend. And you probably won’t be alone: According to a 2014 poll by research firm Miner & Co Studio, 70% of U.S. television watchers self-identified as binge-viewers.

But before you settle in, let’s talk about what a TV binge can do to your body. You know that a habit of sitting for prolonged periods has been linked to everything from obesity to early death, but you may wonder: What harm can one or two lazy days really do?

Well, let’s just say there are some good reasons to try to split up your TV or movie binge.

“Even one long television session can certainly cause some immediate side effects,” says John P. Higgins, MD, associate professor of cardiology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a certified personal trainer. “And the more you do it, the more you’ll be at risk for longer-term problems.”

Here are all the ways your body is affected while you binge-watch, plus how to fight each one.

Your appetite

Watching television often goes hand in hand with mindless overeating and unhealthy snacking, Dr. Higgins says, and watching episode after episode can make that worse. “You probably don’t want to stop for an hour to cook yourself a healthy meal, so you order pizza or fast food, or you snack on junk food the whole time.” And if you think that one bad-for-you dinner can’t hurt, think again: A 2012 study from the University of Montreal found that a single meal high in saturated fat can can damage arteries and restrict blood flow in the body. Furthermore, watching high-paced, action-oriented programs also triggers more distracted eating than less stimulating news or talk shows, according to a 2014 study by Cornell University.

Simply seeing characters eat on TV may make you consume more calories, Dr. Higgins adds, just as watching them drink alcohol may trigger you to crave a cocktail, or seeing them smoke (ahem, Frank and Claire) may tempt smokers to light up.

Fight it: Prep healthy food in advance
Make a healthy meal before you indulge in one (or more) episodes, and have pre-portioned healthy snacks (think popcorn or almonds) at the ready.

Read more: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat

Your muscles

It’s unlikely that you’ll gain five pounds or sabotage your fitness goals in one sitting, but spending all day on your butt can have more immediate consequences, including stiffness, back pain, and muscle cramps.

Fight it: Watch on the go
Download the Netflix app, so you can watch from your phone or tablet on the treadmill, stationary bike, or—Frank’s personal favorite—the rowing machine. At the very least, you should take a stand and stretch break between each episode.

Read more: 15-Minute Workout: Get Total-Body Toned

Your mood

A recent study by University of Texas at Austin researchers found that binge-watching is linked with feelings of depression and loneliness. People often try to lose themselves in TV to distract themselves from their negative feelings, the authors say, but often they’re unable to stop—even when they know they are neglecting work and relationships. Spending a whole weekend watching TV may also cause feelings regret and guilt, says psychiatrist Grant Brenner, MD, adjunct assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, but those are usually temporary.

For viewers with pre-existing mental health conditions, however, a binge session may have bigger consequences. “Perhaps they’re in a vulnerable state and the material triggers a negative reaction—such as activating trauma or amplifying irrational beliefs of some sort,” Dr. Brenner says.

Speaking of trauma, House of Cards has some dark subject matter. “Being exposed to any sufficiently intense or resonant emotionally-laden experience can potentially affect a person’s disposition and outlook,” Dr. Brenner adds, at least for a few days.

Fight it: Watch with friends
You need to talk to someone about Frank and Claire, and why that thing that was so crazy was just. So. Crazy!

Read more: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

Your sleep

And not just the sleep you lose by watching straight through the night (you probably already know you shouldn’t do that); it’s possible that your shut-eye schedule in the days after your binge session could be affected as well, Dr. Higgins says. “If you watch in a dark room with a lack of sunlight it can screw up your circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep-wake cycles.” On top of that, research suggests that the blue light emitted from televisions, computers, and smartphones can impair the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep. (Not to mention, it can cause headaches and eye strain.)

Fight it: Avoid a binge that’s too close to bedtime
You need at least an hour away from the blue light to appropriately wind down. Also: watching on a screen that’s close to your face may have the biggest impact, so be sure you really “sit back” and relax.

Read more: 10 Sleep Compatibility Problems, Solved

Your circulation

Staying in one position for too long can contribute to deep vein thrombosis and the formation of potentially fatal blood clots, even in otherwise active individuals. “I’ve seen young healthy people who have been lying around all day surfing the web or watching movies get blood clots,” Dr. Higgins says. “When you’re watching TV, you may be moving your hands a bit but usually your feet are just lying there.”

Fight it: Get up at least every 30 minutes
“It’s another important reason to get up every 30 minutes or so, even if it’s just to stand and pump the calves and keep the blood flowing,” Dr. Higgins says.

Read more: How to Prevent a Blood Clot

Your metabolism

Studies show that spending long periods of time in a chair or on a couch do slow metabolism and cause the body to store more fat, which can lead to a slow, steady weight gain. Plus, you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: prolonged sitting has been linked to certain cancers, diabetes, disability, and heart disease—and the more time people spend watching TV, the more likely they are to die prematurely. In many cases, these associations hold true even if you’re getting the recommended amount of exercise during the day.

Fight it: Don’t make it a habit
Thankfully, it’s not every week that Netflix releases an addicting show.

Read more: 6 Ways to Sit Less Every Day

The bottom line

There are ways to make the occasional marathon TV session healthier. “If you decide you’re going to watch five episodes in one day rather than one episodes every night of the week—and you use that hour each night to work out when wouldn’t otherwise—you can treat a weekend binge as a reward,” Dr. Higgins says.

Brenner agrees. “For a lot of folks, binge-watching might be a form of relaxing ‘stay-cation,’ especially if it is viewed as a valuable recreational experience and not as an excessive indulgence,” he says. “As with most things, moderation is the key to avoiding problems.”

Read more: 5 Ways To Make Your Netflix Binge A Little Healthier

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

New Hormone Discovered That Curbs Weight Gain, Diabetes Just Like Exercise

“This represents a major advance in the identification of new treatments for age-related diseases such as diabetes”

Scientists have discovered a new hormone that mimics the health benefits of exercise by normalizing the metabolism and slowing the weight gain caused by fatty diets.

Appearing in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism on Tuesday, the study found the newly discovered MOTS-c hormone increases insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to more effectively process glucose sugars, according to a press release from the University of Southern California.

Insulin is a hormone that is used to move glucose sugars from food into the blood stream; resistance occurs when levels are high for a long period of time — commonly from a poor diet — which increases the body’s tolerance to the hormone and can lead to type 2 diabetes.

The new MOTS-c hormone targets muscle tissue and reverses age-dependent and diet-related insulin resistance.

“This represents a major advance in the identification of new treatments for age-related diseases such as diabetes,” said Dr. Pinchas Cohen, senior author of the study.

Researchers injected the new hormone into lab mice eating high-fat foods that usually lead them to become obese. The injection suppressed the weight gain and also reversed the insulin resistance caused by their diet.

While tests were only administered on mice, the necessary mechanisms are present in all mammals, humans included.

Read next: 5 Non-Diet Factors That Can Affect Your Weight

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

How to Get Kids to Exercise More

Getting children to encourage their peers to exercise may be the best way to inspire kids to stay more active, according to new research presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association. The finding introduces a wrinkle in current recommendations that parents play a key role in encouraging children to exercise.

“For a child to be active, they have to really enjoy the activity,” says Stephen Daniels, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We have to find activities they like and settings that promote activity, so this really helps us understand how to do that and emphasizes the fact that having friends involved can be a big motivator.”

The study, which relied on interviews of more than 100 children of various ages, found that kids enjoyed working out more when they did it with friends. Children also got over typical excuses, like not having the right equipment or not being good at, when accompanied by their friends. Though children clearly like exercising with friends, less than half of kids actually do it, according to the study.

Of course, encouragement to exercise by peers only worked if the peers were, in fact, encouraging. If you’re not picking the right peer group, it could backfire in a way,” Daniels says. “I think finding kids and friends who will be non-judgmental who really are there for the fun of the activity and not there to criticize, etc. is an important part of this.”

Overall, the study found that feeling self-conscious, low enjoyment, health concerns, a lack of self-discipline and a lack of energy were the most common impediments to children’s exercise.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Best Workout for Weight Loss

Why intensity matters in exercise

Everyone knows that cardio exercise—by way of a bike ride or a sprint—is key to weight loss. But a high-intensity cardio workout may do a better job of decreasing blood sugar levels than lower intensity exercise, according to a new study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study assigned 300 obese people to a group: one that exercised with low intensity for long periods of time or another that engaged in high-intensity workouts for short durations. By the end of six months, people in both groups experienced similar levels of weight loss. But those who had exercised with higher intensities saw reduced two-hour glucose levels, a key measure for predicting conditions like heart disease and stroke. People in the high-intensity group saw a 9% improvement in glucose tolerance, compared to a negligible change in people who took part in low-intensity exercise.

Increasing the intensity of a workout isn’t beyond the reach of most exercisers, according to lead study author Robert Ross, a researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Higher intensity can be achieved simply by increasing the incline while walking on a treadmill or walking at a brisker pace,” Ross says.

Read more: This Is How Much Exercise Experts Think You Really Need

Still, while high-intensity exercise may have some unique health benefits, the study showed that any exercise is better than none. People who exercised lost 5-6% of their body weight, a 4- to 5-centimeter reduction in waist size.

The study challenges the way public health officials tend to think about the health benefits of exercise. Health organizations often issue guidelines based on time spent exercising. Instead, the study suggests, health officials should consider intensity as well.

Read more: The 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time

Read next: The Best Workout Move You’re Not Doing

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Obesity

Your Definitive Guide to Losing Body Fat

burger-fries
Getty Images

The trick is understanding the difference between the kinds of fat and keeping them in balance with diet and exercise

We curse the dimpled cellulite that has settled on our thighs and survey the pudge around our belly with a quick poke and a disapproving eye. But here’s the thing: Fat isn’t just a place where your body dumps extra calories. It’s an organ that can help—or harm—your health. (One type, brown fat, can actually turn your body into a calorie-burning machine!) “Everyone has fat—even Olympic marathon runners,” says Osama Hamdy, MD, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Harvard University’s Joslin Diabetes Center. “Simply put, we need it to survive.” The trick is understanding the difference between the kinds of fat and keeping them in balance with diet, exercise and some plain old common sense. Get ready to go deep.

Fat type No. 1: Subcutaneous fat

Where it is: Directly underneath your skin. Subcutaneous fat can be anywhere: not just in your belly and tush but your arms, legs—even your face.

What it does: In addition to storing energy and providing essential padding for your body, it has another important job: It generates the hormone adiponectin, which helps regulate insulin production. “Paradoxically, the fatter you are, the less adiponectin you produce, which means that your body has trouble regulating insulin, increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” Dr. Hamdy says.

How to blast it off: Cutting calories is crucial for overall weight loss, but getting moving counts, too: Women who walked, cycled or took public transportation to work had about 1.5 percent less body fat than those who drove, according to a U.K. study published this past August. “It’s proof that those little bursts of activity count when it comes to burning fat,” notes Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women. “Even just walking from the train station or bus to your office can burn on average an extra hundred calories.”

Read more: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Already active? Ramp it up. “When you take your workout up a notch, you reach VO2 max—that’s the level of exertion where you have the optimal breakdown of body fat,” Dr. Peeke explains. “It also fools your body into thinking that you’re working out minutes after you’ve stopped, so you’re still burning calories.”

Fat type No. 2: Visceral fat

Where it is: Nestled deep within your belly, where it pads the spaces around your abdominal organs. You can’t feel or grab it.

What it does: Visceral fat has been dubbed “toxic” fat, and for good reason: “It secretes inflammatory proteins called cytokines that affect insulin production and increase inflammation throughout the body, which raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Dr. Hamdy says. You can’t directly measure visceral fat unless you undergo an MRI or a CT scan. The next best thing? Grab a tape measure and wind it around your waist; if your midsection is more than 35 inches, you most likely have too much visceral fat, Dr. Hamdy says. A Mayo Clinic study published last March found that Caucasian women with waist sizes above 37 inches were more likely to die from heart or respiratory disease. Another sign of trouble: Your numbers are off, meaning you’ve got low HDL (good) cholesterol and elevated blood glucose and triglyceride levels. “When a woman who has been lean most of her life gains 10 to 20 pounds at age 40 or so, she may not even be technically overweight, but it’s usually visceral fat that’s adding the extra weight,” explains Caroline Cederquist, MD, a bariatric physician based in Naples, Fla., and author of The MD Factor Diet.

Read more: Fat-Burning Recipe: Blueberry Oat Pancakes With Maple Yogurt

How to blast it off: “To mobilize visceral fat, a balanced diet is essential,” Dr. Cederquist says. “Eat lean protein throughout the day, while controlling your carb and fat intake.” For keeping visceral fat off, cardio is the way to go: A 2011 Duke University study found that regular aerobic exercise—the equivalent of jogging about 12 miles a week at 80 percent max heart rate—was the best workout for losing visceral fat in particular.

Fat type No. 3: Brown fat

Where it is: Mainly around your neck, collarbone and chest. For years, researchers assumed that it was present primarily in infants, helping to keep them warm, and that it gradually disappeared during childhood. But in 2009, studies revealed that some adults still have brown cells.

What it does: This buzzed-about “good” fat becomes metabolically active when we’re exposed to cold temperatures, burning up energy. “Since brown fat is used to generate heat, it burns more calories at rest,” says Ruth Loos, MD, professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Fifty grams (about 4 tablespoons) of brown fat, if maximally stimulated, could torch about 300 calories a day.

How to beef it up: Since brown fat is activated by cold, prepare to shiver. According to a study in Cell Metabolism, folks who spent 10 to 15 minutes in temperatures below 60 degrees produced a hormone called irisin, which appears to make white fat cells act like brown fat; they got a similar boost from an hour of moderate exercise at warmer temps. And keep your thermostat low: An Australian study showed that men who lived in homes set to 66 degrees generated 40 percent more brown fat than when they lived in higher temps.

Read more: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com