Having some body fat is healthy, but there’s good reason to want to lose extra weight around your waist.

About 90 percent of body fat is just below the skin in most people, estimates Harvard Medical School. This is known as subcutaneous fat.

The other 10 percent is called visceral fat. It sits underneath the abdominal wall and in spaces surrounding organs. That’s the fat associated with various health problems, like:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • cancer

If you’re goal is to lose belly fat, there’s no easy or quick method. Crash diets and supplements won’t do the trick. And targeting a single area of the body for fat reduction isn’t likely to work.

Your best bet is to work on losing overall body fat through diet and exercise. Once you start losing weight, there’s a good chance some will come from your belly.

How long that takes is different for everybody. Read on to learn the average time it takes to lose excess belly fat and how you can get started.

You have to burn about 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. This is because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat.

To lose 1 pound a week, you have to eliminate 500 calories from your diet every day. At that pace, you could lose about 4 pounds in a month.

Increasing physical activity will help you burn more calories. Exercise also builds muscle mass. Muscle is heavier than fat, so even though you’re looking and feeling leaner, it might not show on the scale.

Everyone is different. There are many variables in how much physical activity it takes to burn a calorie.

The larger you are, the more calories you burn doing anything. Males have more muscle than females of the same size, so that helps males burn more calories.

Calories are units of energy from food. The more energy you use, the more calories you burn. Unused calories are stored as fat. You can burn fat stores by taking in fewer calories and using more energy.

Here are some ways to cut calories that you can start today:

Switch drinks

  • Drink water instead of soda.
  • Try black coffee instead of coffee flavored with added cream and sugar.
  • Cut down on alcohol.

Avoid high-calorie foods

Reduce portions

  • Measure oils used for cooking.
  • Cut down on oil and other salad dressings.
  • Use a smaller plate or bowl.
  • Eat slower, and wait 20 minutes after eating to make sure you’re full.
  • At restaurants, take half your meal home.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV, where it’s easy to keep snacking.

Consider food density, too. For example, 1 cup of grapes has around 100 calories, but a cup of raisins has around 480. Fresh vegetables and fruits are full of water and fiber, so they’ll help you feel full without a lot of calories.

To retain lean muscle mass, you’ll need plenty of protein.

In 2016, researchers performed a meta-analysis of 20 randomized control trials involving diet and weight loss. They concluded that adults ages 50 and older lost more fat and kept more lean mass on energy-restricted, higher-protein diets rather than diets with normal protein intakes.

In addition to a regular exercise routine, try these calorie burners:

  • Park farther away and walk the extra steps.
  • Better yet, bike or walk rather than drive.
  • Use the stairs instead of elevators and escalators if you can.
  • Take a stroll after meals.
  • If you work at a desk, get up at least once every hour for a short walk or stretch.

Many pleasurable activities help you burn calories, like hiking, dancing, and even golfing. For instance, in 30 minutes of general gardening, a 125-pound person can burn 135 calories, and a 185-pound person can burn 200.

The more you move, the more calories you burn. And the more likely it is you’ll lose some belly fat.

Weigh yourself once a week at the same time of day to track overall weight loss.

If you’re eating a good amount of protein and exercising regularly, you’re likely building muscle. But remember that the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

To see if you’re actually losing belly fat, use a tape measure. Always measure in the same place.

Stand straight, but without sucking in your belly. Try not to pull the tape hard enough to pinch the skin. Measure around your belly button level.

Another telltale sign is that your clothes fit better, and you’re starting to feel better, too.

Research published in the Journal of Obesity suggests that high-intensity intermittent exercise may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal body fat than other types of exercise.

Exercises that target the abdomen may not affect your visceral fat, but they can help strengthen your muscles, and that’s a good thing.

The important thing is to keep moving and build exercise into your day. You don’t have to stick with one thing, either. Mix it up so you don’t get bored. Try:

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days
  • aerobic exercise twice a week
  • strength training to build muscle mass
  • stretches first thing in the morning and again before bed

Targeting only belly fat may not be the best plan. To lose weight and keep it off, you have to make changes you can stick with. If it sounds like too much, start with one small change and add others when you’re ready.

If you backslide, all isn’t lost — it’s not a “diet.” It’s a new way of life! And slow and steady is a good plan.