Fact-check: Spot reduction is a myth

Fact-check: Spot reduction is a myth

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Spot reduction

Targeted exercises can improve muscle tone and appearance, but they cannot really burn fat in specific areas of the body.

By Allen Joe Mathew

Social media is flooded with fitness videos recommending exercises that target specific areas of the body. Whether it’s reducing belly fat or facial fat, the videos claim that spot reduction can be achieved with the right workout. A viral YouTube video (in Malayalam) even talks about a recent study to prove that targeted fat loss is possible. 

So, here’s the question: Is it possible to reduce fat in a particular part of the body by doing specific exercises? Based on current scientific evidence, First Check finds that the answer is a resounding ‘no’. 

First, let’s understand how body fat is stored and used. The most common form of fat in the body is triglycerides. When we eat food, enzymes in our gut break down fats into their component fatty acids, which are then reassembled to create triglyceride particles. These are eventually transported to adipose tissues, where they are stored as subcutaneous fat under the skin and as visceral fat around internal organs. Where fat gets stored in the body varies from person to person, depending on several factors, such as sex, age, genetics, lifestyle and hormones.

When a person loses weight, the body burns fat from different parts, including the abdominal region, hips, thighs, and arms. Studies show that fat reduction occurs all over the body, and not just from a specific spot. It’s important to note that the study mentioned in the Malayalam YouTube video is based on a small sample size of 16 overweight males, observed over a period of 10 weeks. We need more robust scientific studies to establish the possibility of exercise‐induced local body fat reduction. 

Until then, it’s safe to say that spot reduction is a myth. There is merit in targeted exercises though; they can help build muscle. These exercises can improve muscle tone and appearance, but they cannot really burn fat in targeted areas. 

If your goal is weight loss, it’s advisable to adopt a healthy combination of regular exercise and balanced diet (ensuring a caloric deficit), while getting adequate sleep and managing stress levels. 

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