Many people assume that exercise bikes burn belly fat, and while there is some truth to this, there are other factors that determine whether exercise bikes are good for weight loss (opens in new tab).
Cardio, such as spinning or sprinting, is a great way to lose fat in general, as it burns calories and helps to put your body into a calorie deficit. If you want to squeeze in a quick cardio session, then hopping on one of the best exercises bikes (opens in new tab) or the best treadmills (opens in new tab) is a great way to do this.
But our genes and hormones are also linked to where we carry weight in our bodies, meaning it can be harder for some of us to burn belly fat specifically. We asked a doctor and coach to break down the exact relationship between exercise bikes and belly fat.
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What is belly fat and how can you get rid of it?
There are two forms of belly fat: one is known as visceral fat and the other is known as subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat, which normally can’t be seen, is the type of fat that lays just above your organs, while subcutaneous fat is the 'jiggly' fat that can be pocked and prodded at, usually around the stomach.
But even if you can’t see it, having too much visceral fat can be dangerous, says Dr Aishah Iqbal (opens in new tab), medical doctor and weight loss coach, because it has been linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. "Studies have also shown that visceral fat can cause insulin resistance and inflammation," she says. "High blood pressure, dementia and some cancers have also been linked to visceral fat."
However, Em Furey, personal trainer and ambassador for PhD Nutrition (opens in new tab), says it’s important to remember that having fat is normal and vital for the survival of a healthy human.
"Visceral fat can be a problem when you appear to be slim on the outside but still have an excessive amount of visceral fat surrounding your organs," she says. "This means you won’t realise you’re at risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes."
Furey also explains that some subcutaneous fat can be harmless, but she says that care should be taken to make sure your body fat percentage doesn’t go above what’s considered ‘healthy’ - around 20-30% for women and 15-25% for men.
Do exercise bikes burn belly fat?
Any exercise that burns calories is good for our wellbeing – however, some studies have shown that aerobic exercise (opens in new tab) is better for burning fat.
Research conducted by the Duke University Medical Center (opens in new tab) is one example of this. The university conducted an eight month study, comparing the effects of aerobic exercise and resistance training. The results suggested that aerobic exercise is better for burning belly fat than resistance training. Specifically, the researchers found that aerobic exercise was the most efficient and effective way to lose visceral belly fat – the one that's more harmful for our health.
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Iqbal explains that aerobic exercise can be effective in helping to reduce belly fat. "Using a bike is a form of aerobic exercise and coupling this with some strength training can be highly effective," she says.
While Furey agrees, she also says it's important to remember that you can’t ‘spot reduce’ fat. "This means you can’t choose where your body burns fat first," she explains. "This is decided by your genetics. It’s also impossible to know how much of your belly fat is ‘visceral’ without expensive medical imaging tests."
To burn the optimal amount of calories on an exercise bike – around 300-600, for a 45-minute class – Furey recommends a Tabata workout. You can also find out how to get the most out of your exercise bike (opens in new tab) to maximize your results.
"This is a type of high-intensity workout that requires you to give 100% effort for short bursts with short rest periods. It’s best to turn the resistance very high on the exercise bike when doing this type of workout. Do 20 seconds at full intensity, followed by 10 seconds rest (i.e. pedalling slowly), and repeat eight times for a total of four minutes."
- Related: Recumbent bikes vs upright bikes - What's the difference? (opens in new tab)
How else can you burn belly fat?
However, it’s not just aerobic exercise that will help you lose belly fat. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also a major factor, so eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, minimising stress levels and reducing alcohol consumption is also key.
"Fat loss comes down to a few aspects: reducing energy intake, increasing energy usage and adapting lifestyle to aid both of these," adds Iqbal.
Furey warns that stress and sleep is an important factor as emotions can lead to comfort eating. "Your sleep impacts your eating habits greatly," she says. "Having the right mindset is also part of lifestyle elements to work on."
Not sure where to start when it comes to making lifestyle changes? Iqbal reveals some simple tips that can help you to burn belly fat:
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet with limited processed foods – keeping an eye on calorie intake is important but this doesn't mean counting every calorie. Being conscious of what whole foods you eat can be helpful.
- Quit smoking – smoking has been linked to the storage of fat in the abdominal area.
- Improve your sleep hygiene (opens in new tab) - lack of sleep is linked to increased hunger, sugar cravings and larger consumption of calories. It also impacts your prefrontal context's ability to make decisions. All of these factors can cause fat gain.
- Include strength training in your fitness plan – increasing muscle mass can help to create a toned appearance while aiding fat loss.