Excess abdominal fat, or belly fat, is a source of vexation in middle age, but the good news is that by understanding its cause and by taking steps to control your weight, you can prevent your waistline from spreading.
“One of the primary causes of middle-age weight gain is hormonal imbalance. Many women experience weight gain during perimenopause – the period leading to menopause – due to declining progesterone levels and relative preservation of oestrogen levels,” says Dr Sonali Ganguly, Consultant, Department of Endocrinology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
Though oestrogen dominance may contribute to the extra kilos, other reasons such as stress, a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits also lead to middle-age weight gain, adds Dr Ganguly, who works at SGH’s Lifestyle Improvement & Fitness Enhancement (LIFE) Centre.
Understanding why we gain weight and belly fat in middle age
- Lower metabolic rate
The body’s metabolic rate naturally slows down with age in both men and women. Burning less calories means gaining more kilos. You can boost your metabolism with regular exercise.
- Less muscle mass
The body’s muscle mass starts to shrink from the age of 30, leading to weight gain. Muscles burn more calories and keep your body lean.
- Weight gain in menopause
For women, the hormonal imbalance continues into menopause with oestrogen levels dropping drastically. The body responds by retaining fat so that it can draw oestrogen from fat cells. The result? More belly fat!
For men, it is the fall in testosterone levels that causes weight gain around the midriff.
- Sedentary lifestyle
Many men and women tend to have a more sedentary lifestyle in their middle age. This further slows down the already declining metabolic rate.
- Stress and middle-age weight gain
A high-pressure job means the body tends to be under continual stress. As the stress hormone cortisol sends messages to the brain to store up fuel to fight stress, you may end up eating more. The excess calories are stored as belly fat.
How to lose belly fat
- Eat a healthier diet
Try eating more lean protein and good fats such as polyunsaturated fats (essential fatty acids) and monounsaturated fats to improve the hormonal balance and stimulate the body’s metabolism. The essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 are found in oily fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel), wheat germ and seeds such as flaxseeds and nuts.
Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and sesame oils.
Eating enough quality proteins, such as those found in meat, eggs, tofu, beans, pulses and fish, supports muscle regeneration.
- Control your blood sugar levels
Insulin resistance is another reason why people put on belly fat in middle age.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s metabolism. However, bad eating habits (such as overeating of refined carbohydrates for instance) and excess weight can cause the body’s insulin to become less effective. This condition, called insulin resistance, leads in turn to excess glucose in the body, which is stored as fat.
Adopting a healthier diet rich in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes and vegetables will keep your blood sugar levels in check.
- Get back on track with exercise
Experts recommend 30 minutes of brisk walking four to five times a week and twice-weekly strength training to arrest declining metabolic rates.
Ten minutes of toning exercises three times a day, plus a weekly aerobic exercise session can also help you lose belly fat.
“Excess body fat poses serious health consequences. Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems are all correlated to being overweight,” says Dr Ganguly.
Need help adopting a better lifestyle? The LIFE Centre at Singapore General Hospital has a multidisciplinary team of experts who can provide you with guidance on weight management, exercise and diet.
With expertise from Department of Endocrinology at:
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