You may be obsessing over that number on your scale, but it may be just as important to pay attention to the size of your skirt. That’s because a new, buzzy study in the British Medical Journal found that women who gain weight around their bellies from their 20s to their 60s—and thus increase their skirt size—may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.
Belly fat is known to be particularly harmful to your body, perhaps because it’s close to so many of your vital organs. Losing some of it has even been linked to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease.
Here, three ways you can drop a skirt size—do so and not only will you look and feel great, but you’ll potentially decrease your risk of breast cancer and other diseases. A win-win.
Do more than cardio
A daily run or Zumba class is great for your heart, but just sticking to cardio won’t help your waist much. "You need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training," says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat. "Muscle burns more calories than fat, and therefore you naturally burn more calories throughout the day by having more muscle," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic.
Pick planks, not crunches
The dreaded crunch won't be the exercise that beats that stubborn belly fat because you can't spot reduce fat. Instead, do functional exercises that use the muscles in your core—abdominals, back, pelvic, obliques—as well as other body parts. These exercises use more muscles, so there is a higher rate of calorie burn while you are doing them. Planks are one of the best functional exercises—they activate not just your core muscles but also your arm, leg, and butt muscles.
RELATED: 20 Ways to Do a Plank
Cut your stress
Having too much of it may make it harder for you to drop unwanted pounds, especially from your middle. And it's not just because you tend to reach for high-fat, high-calorie fare when you're stressed, though that's part of it. It's also due to the stress hormone cortisol, which may increase the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. And higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral (abdominal) fat.