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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

What sort of exercises can I do to get rid of my love handles? Also, which exercises help to remove fat in the inner thigh?

Losing your love handles and the fat in your inner thigh actually involve more than a few exercises. Technically, in fact, performing exercises such as leg lifts or hitting the gym's abductor machine won't help you lose fat - exercise builds muscle, which is different from losing fat. To get rid of the fat, you need to modify your diet and practice cardio activities like running, brisk walking, biking or aerobic dance.

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You can't spot reduce (i.e., lose fat in just one area). That said, everyone has certain areas where fat seems to gather. For some (mostly women), it's the hips and thighs. For others, it's the abdomen or back. When you modify your eating habits and combine this with cardio activity, you will lose fat all over, but it will probably be most noticeable in the places where you have the most fat. At the same time, you will also probably still have some fat in that area after the rest of you is lean. In other words, aim for your own best body - don't aim for perfection. That will just frustrate you.

So here's the first exercise you need to perform to lose those love handles - exercise portion control. Lower your intake of sugar, refined flours, saturated fat and starchy carbs. Do not cut them out altogether - if you do you may be setting yourself up for a binge. Eat a reasonable amount of lean meat, vegetables and whole grains. What's reasonable? You probably already know that one serving of meat is equal to a deck of cards. One cup of pasta is a serving (and you're supposed to top that with a half cup of sauce). Want rice? A serving is a mere half a cup. Here are more serving sizes for you to ponder. Measure these out and you may be shocked at how much less this is than what you've actually been consuming. Look at the nutrition facts label on the foods you've been eating. Especially pay attention calories and serving size. That bag of chips you've been snacking on may actually be 3 servings of 150 calories each - that means the whole bag has a whopping 450 calories! Ditch the chips - have a piece of fruit for a snack instead. Eat reasonable portions and indulge in moderation, and you're off to a good start towards losing fat from your love handles and thighs.

Add cardio to your portion-controlled eating, and you've taken the next step. Cardio exercise primarily does two things: 1) improve your heart and circulatory health, and 2) burn calories and fat. Cardio activity is anything that increases your heart rate and helps you break a light sweat. In addition to traditional activities such as hitting the treadmill, stationary bike, or using the elliptical, you can also try an activity such as Power Yoga (a good Power Yoga class will also build some muscle in addition to burning calories). If you prefer outdoor activity, running, walking or hiking are all good. Dance is an excellent cardio activity that does not get enough attention. With cardio, the important thing is how much time you put into it - at least 20 minutes and up to an hour most days. Between 30 and 45 minutes is ideal. And while you can divide this into 10 or 15-minute increments, you'll get the most fat-burning benefits if you do your half-hour to an hour all at once. You don't have to kill yourself with intensity - if you're breaking a sweat and breathing a bit harder than normal, you're fine. An easy gauge is whether you can carry on a conversation or not. If you can talk as easily as you could just hanging out at home on the phone, you need to go harder. If you can't even get two words out, you're working too hard. You should be able to have a conversation with just a bit of heavy breathing. With cardio, as with any activity, you should take off at least one day a week to allow your body to rest and recoup. But you should also practice cardio of one form or another at least three days a week. Any less won't help you get much in the way of results.

By now you're probably wondering if there are any moves you can do that specifically target those love handles and inner thighs. There are, if you're looking for tone, and if you're losing body fat, you certainly want to reveal toned muscles. Pilates is one of the best exercises for love handles - it tones your abdominals and hips very nicely. Take a mat class, or buy one of the many excellent DVDs out there. Bicycle kicks and oblique, or twisting crunches can also help shape the area around your love handles. For your inner thighs, pliés are excellent, as are wide-legged squats (both do wonders for your glutes, too). Add these in to your regular exercise routine.

Lastly, don't fret if you can't get perfectly lean inner thighs and love handles. As mentioned before, these areas are often a problem for women. Most women who have no fat at all in these areas are usually downright bony everywhere else, and that's unhealthy. Just do your best. Cater to your health first and your body appearance second.

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