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Spot reducing in specific areas is a common goal for many people striving to lose weight and change their overall body composition. Men often want to know how to get rid of their "spare tire," and women are interested in slimming hips, thighs and buttocks. Unfortunately, it is not possible to spot reduce body fat, nor is it possible to tone fat.

Fat and muscle are two different kinds of tissue, and exercise alone will not improve their appearance. In fact, over-exercising an area of the body in an attempt to get rid of the fat may actually make the "spot" more muscular, and end up appearing larger. The right combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercise, along with a reduced-calorie diet, will enable your body to burn fat.

Women tend to see fat go from their upper bodies first, while men may lose fat from their arms and legs before losing fat from their back and abdominal areas. Unfortunately, we cannot choose where our body decides to draw fat from for fuel. This is one of the frustrations about losing weight — getting in shape but still having love handles, a spare tire, or saggy arms. It is important to be patient with your exercise and nutrition program in order to get to those stubborn areas. Generally, the first place you put on weight is the last place to see it go.

Here are some specifics on what you can accomplish with proper nutrition and exercise:

• Reducing water retention by drinking plenty of water, controlling sodium intake and sticking to a moderate or low-carbohydrate diet will also tighten the appearance of your waistline.

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• Shrink the fat cells, and reduce overall body fat. Caloric deficit in your diet and cardiovascular exercise are keys to fat loss. Doing cardio first thing in the morning or after your strength training is best for fat burning. Participating in a aerobic activity requires the utilization of glycogen and fat stores for energy. Since carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel, your body will rely on glycogen stores at the onset of cardiovascular activity. Once you are in a glycogen deficient state (like first thing in the morning or after weight training) your body will begin to rely primarily on fat for energy. Remaining within your target heart rate in that glycogen deficient state is the key to fat burning.

• Increase muscle size and density through strength training. Many people will see faster results by focusing their strength training on the major muscle groups (and doing cardio to burn the fat). Compound exercises that involve more muscles require more energy, thus burn more calories. For example, chest press and squats involve major muscles in the upper or lower body, thus require more energy than a triceps extension. Obviously a well-rounded strength program is important for avoiding muscle imbalances, but also as you develop more muscle density, your body will actually burn more calories while at rest.

Shelly Greenfield of Rochester is a certified personal trainer. Your questions may be e-mailed to lifestyle@postbulletin.com or mailed to Lifestyle, Post-Bulletin, 18 First Ave. S.E., Rochester, Minn. 55904.

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