updated 3/9/2004 6:09:38 PM ET 2004-03-09T23:09:38

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have a question about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

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How can I get rid of the flab in my arms?

Question: I am 20 years old and petite, but I have big arms that do not fit my body proportionally. I work out pretty regularly and have lifted weights off and on. But obviously I am doing something wrong because my arms don't get thinner. Please help!

Answer: Unfortunately, you cannot spot-reduce or target a specific area of your body for fat reduction; for example, you can't do abdominal exercises and expect to burn fat on your abdomen. It would be nice if you could get on the elliptical machine and say, "Today, burn fat from my thighs," or, "OK, sit-ups, get rid of my love handles," but that's not how it works. Resistance exercises will tone the muscle under the excess fat, and they can even help tighten you up enough to lose a pant size (without losing any weight), but it will not reduce the fat.

The best approach is any regular aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week for 25-30 minutes, resistance exercise 2-3 times per week, and attention to your caloric and fat intake. Aerobic exercise sends signals to fat cells to release fat into the bloodstream so it can be used by the muscles for fuel. It also burns lots of calories and fat (you don't have any control over which fat cells release fat -- that's why you can't spot reduce). Resistance exercise builds, tones, and tightens the muscles (muscle is the engine in your body that burns calories and helps maintain your metabolic rate).

Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, is an exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator. He has published dozens of articles on exercise and health and has appeared on many television programs. He also speaks about health at many national conferences.

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