“Body fat is structurally important,” explains Stefanie Mendez, R.D., co-founder of Matriarch, a women's fitness and nutrition service. “It cushions our organs and insulates our body for temperature control and also is our body’s source of energy reserves. Beyond that, fat is needed for the production of hormones and reproduction functions.” And that fat can show up in your thighs, your belly, and, yes, your upper arms. Where it goes is partly due to genetics; if your mom has arm fat, science says you have a 62 percent chance of inheriting that trait.
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If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you know that exercise should be an essential part of your routine. But the benefits of physical activity go far beyond just physical fitness. Increasingly, more and more research is showing that working out regularly can boost other aspects of your health as well, including cognitive function and emotional well-being.
Flabby arms are something a lot of us have to tend to. If you find yourself buying a sweater or cardigan to go with your tank top or usually opt for the long-sleeved dress, then you’re not alone. Usually a result of genes, general excess fat or just ageing, it seems difficult to lose arm fat. The fat in our arms accumulates mainly around the triceps – the muscles on the back of your upper arm – and are prone to getting flabby if not exercised regularly.
Not feeling up to heavy lifting? Try doing more reps at a lower weight instead and you’ll be kissing that arm fat goodbye in no time. Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University studied a group of 20-something men over a 12-week period, with half the study subjects lifting heavy weight and doing low reps, and another group lifting lighter weights for higher reps. The Journal of Applied Physiology study found that both groups increased their strength and muscle size by approximately the same amount, so if you’re relatively new to lifting or don’t feel up to hitting the heavy weights just yet, don’t worry; lighter lifts will still help you ditch the fat while gaining muscle tone.
A combination of aerobic workouts (which, depending on your fitness level, can include walking, running, swimming, and other vigorous heart-pumping exercise) and strength training (weight lifting, resistance training) is considered best for heart health. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. That reduces the need for the heart—a muscular organ itself—to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles, whatever your age.
Strength training at the gym or taking a class at a fitness studio is great, but sometimes, you just want to get in your workout at home—or on vacation, or on a work trip, or wherever you may be. While most of us don't have round-the-clock access to a full gym stocked with weights and machines, the truth is that you really can work your entire body without them. Of course, equipment can help and is great for progressing and diversifying a workout program. But if you want to just get moving and do some strength and cardio work wherever you are, that's completely doable with a bodyweight workout.
Dr. Robert Sallis, a family physician at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, has prescribed exercise to his patients since the early 1990s in hopes of doling out less medication. “It really worked amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients,” he says. “If I could get them to do it on a regular basis—even just walking, anything that got their heart rate up a bit—I would see dramatic improvements in their chronic disease, not to mention all of these other things like depression, anxiety, mood and energy levels.”
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes angled out slightly. Keep your core engaged as you hinge at the hips, lowering into a sumo squat position while simultaneously keeping the hands positioned in front of the chest. Release the hands to the floor and jump or step back to a high-plank position; be sure to maintain a neutral spine. Reverse the squat thrust, jumping or stepping feet back toward the hands and rising up to the starting position. Complete a total of eight to 10 reps.
Back to the tricep pushups and really activating those tricep muscles for toned arms. If you need a rest, that's totally cool. Just take a break in the up position and maintain that plank form. This way you are still working your arm muscles just by holding your body weight up. So that's totally fine for some of our beginners out there. For those who are more advanced, we want you going as hard as you can and trying to hit that 15 to 20 reps. You're doing great.
Science is also showing that even short bursts of exercise can have a significant impact on your brain function in the short term. A study published in January 2018 in the journal Neuropsychologia found that when participants cycled for 10 minutes (either moderately or vigorously) on a stationary bike, their measured reaction times to a cognitively demanding task were significantly more accurate and faster than when they did the task after not doing any physical activity, meaning their attention was sharper.
If you're ready to move on from classic Bulgarian split squats, Swan's amped-up variation gets your upper body in on the action for a true total-body exercise. "This combination move works your legs, butt, chest, back, arms, and core," she says. "And it not only hits all the major muscle groups—it also lets you work on balance." Give it a shot and you'll see why.