It appears that belly fat and aging seem to go hand in hand because as we age, it is common to notice changes in our body shape, particularly around the midsection.
Many people experience an increase in belly fat as they get older, and it can be frustrating to try to combat. Many struggle with trying to lose it without fully understanding the best ways to do so.
A key secret is to FIRST understand what causes belly fat, and why it is more rapidly deposited in some people than others. In this article, we’ll explore why belly fat becomes more prevalent as we age, and what you can do to help manage it.
Why Does Fat Accumulate In The Belly?
Types of Fat
Before we dive into the specifics of why belly fat becomes more of an issue as we age, let us first discuss what causes belly fat in general.
Belly fat is essentially excess visceral fat that accumulates around the organs in the abdominal cavity. This type of fat is different from subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that sits just under the skin.
According to the Harvard Medical School (2019), subcutaneous fat can be pinched, while visceral fat can be seen and measured, but not pinched.
Factors That Contribute to Accumulation of Belly Fat
There are several factors that can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.
Aging muscles contribute to the increase in the amount of fat we store in our bodies because we lose muscle cells as we age.
When muscle cells at a younger age are damaged, they are quickly repaired nut that does not happen with muscles at an older age.
Look at muscles as being the energy powerhouse of the body because that is where most of the calories we consume are burned during metabolism.
Because energy is delivered to the body in the form of calories, if you keep your intake the same as when you were younger, as you get older, those unburned calories end up as fat (Neighmond, P 2010).
Another important culprit is an unhealthy diet.
Eating a lot of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks can all lead to an increase in belly fat. In addition, not getting enough exercise and living a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to the problem.
However, there are also factors beyond our control that can play a role in the development of belly fat. These include genetics and hormonal changes.
For example, women may experience an increase in belly fat during menopause due to changes in their estrogen levels.
Belly Fat and Aging – Associated Dangers
While many people may be unhappy with the appearance of belly fat, it is necessary to understand that it is not just a cosmetic issue. Belly fat can actually be dangerous to your health.
Excess visceral fat has been linked to a range of health problems. Fat tissue plays an important role in human health. However, our fat tissue loses function as we age, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and other ailments (University of Copenhagen Faculty of Science 2022) .
Important to note are those we have grouped into 4 categories
1. Health Problems Related to Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome: Visceral fat is one of the key components of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol levels.
Metabolic syndrome is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.
Heart disease: People with higher levels of belly fat are at a greater risk of developing heart disease. This is because belly fat has been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease.
Type 2 diabetes: Belly fat can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because belly fat can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
Stroke: Excess belly fat has also been linked to an increased risk of stroke.
2. Sleeping Disorder
People with higher levels of belly fat are also at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
3. Certain Cancer Types
Excess visceral fat has been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancers, including colon, breast, and pancreatic cancer. This is because visceral fat can release hormones that can promote the growth of cancer cells.
4. Cognitive Decline
Some studies have suggested that excess visceral fat may be linked to cognitive decline in older adults. This is thought to be due to the inflammation and insulin resistance associated with visceral fat.
How to Manage Belly Fat As You Age
Now that you understand what causes belly fat and those who may be pre-disposed to accumulating it, we can now look at the different ways to target getting rid of it!
If you are concerned about belly fat as you age, there are several things you can do to help manage the issue. Most people tend to only focus on exercise and diet. Great! But there are other things you can do.
High levels of lifelong exercise is actually recommended (University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Science 2022), however, a key secret to managing belly fat remains changes in lifestyle.
Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do to help manage belly fat. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help reduce it.
In addition to aerobic exercise, strength training can also be beneficial for managing belly fat. Building muscle can help boost your metabolism and burn more calories, which can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce belly fat
Belly Fat and Aging – Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet that’s rich in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins can also be beneficial for managing belly fat. Avoiding processed foods, sugary drinks, and foods high in saturated and trans fats can also help.
Hydrate throughout the day. Drinking enough water is important for overall health and can also be helpful for managing belly fat.
Aim to drink at least 8 cups of water a day, and consider adding more water-rich foods to your diet like cucumbers and watermelon.
Unfortunately, as you age you need to make a concerted effort to hydrate because you do not feel as thirsty as when you were younger.
Fiber is important for overall health and can also help with managing belly fat, so consider adding it to your diet. . It can help you feel fuller and can also help regulate digestion. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Learn to manage stress because it can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat. So finding ways to manage stress can be helpful. This can include meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
- Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is also important for managing belly fat. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to have higher levels of belly fat. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to managing belly fat. It’s important to make healthy habits a regular part of your life rather than relying on short-term fixes or crash diets. Set achievable goals and track your progress to help keep you motivated.
- Watch your alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to belly fat, as it’s high in calories and can lead to overeating. Try to limit your alcohol intake and choose lower calorie options like light beer or wine.
- Talk to your doctor: If you’re concerned about belly fat or have other health issues. They can help you develop a plan that’s tailored to your individual needs.
Other – Thinking of Abdominal Fat Reduction?
In some cases, your doctor may recommend medications or other treatments to help manage belly fat. For example, some medications can help regulate insulin levels or help you feel fuller, which can be helpful for managing belly fat.
In rare cases, surgery may also be an option. Bariatric surgery, for example, can be an effective way to help manage obesity and reduce belly fat. However, this is usually reserved for people who are severely overweight and have other health issues.
Conclusion – Belly Fat and Aging
While belly fat can be frustrating, it is important to understand that it’s a common issue that many people experience as they age. However, there are things you can do to help manage the problem of belly fat and aging
Regular exercise, strength training, a healthy diet, stress management, getting enough sleep, and talking to your doctor can all be helpful for managing belly fat.
By taking a proactive approach to your health, you can help reduce your risk of developing health problems associated with excess belly fat and enjoy a healthier, happier life.
University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Science (2022). Well-functioning fat may be the key to fewer old-age ailments. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/02/220217141344.htm
Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard medical School (2019) Abdominal fat and what to do about it. Visceral fat more of a health concern than subcutaneous fat https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it
Neighmond P (2010) Why We Gain Weight As We Age https://www.npr.org/2010/02/22/123887823/why-we-gain-weight-as-we-age