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The post-menopause belly fat curse

A creeping number on the scale – it’s one of the most common age-related complaints. Both men and women are susceptible to extra pounds and belly fat as they grow older, but women also have to contend with a slower metabolism than their male counterparts. Women have less lean muscle mass than men do, meaning they burn fewer calories and must work harder to lose unwanted fat.

Link between where fat settles and health risks

In women, excess fat tends to deposit on the hips, thighs and upper extremities. The good news is this type of fat is not as indicative of health problems as belly fat. The bad news is women can still develop belly fat. Where a woman gains her weight is determined by genetics.

Just like in men, fat that settles in the belly region is by far the most toxic type of fat. According to David Montgomery, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute, “Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, contributes to high cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, as well as increased chances of inflammation. This puts you at increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.”

Women may notice an increase in belly fat as they get older even if they are not gaining weight. Some studies have found that even when women were considered a normal weight based on standard body mass index (BMI) measurements, a large waistline increases their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Physiological changes contribute to weight gain

Women also go through significant physiological changes as they age, some of which contribute to increased body fat. Their source of estrogen diminishes after menopause, and Dr. Montgomery says estrogen provides many health benefits.

“Estrogen plays a role in fat placement, it helps regulate blood pressure, it helps maintain a healthy cholesterol balance, it slows the rate of bone loss, and it even affects mood and concentration.”

Measuring belly fat

A simple home measurement can help you determine if you have too much belly fat.

  1. Place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hip bones.
  2. Adjust the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, without pinching your skin.
  3. Relax, exhale and measure your waist. Resist the urge to suck in your stomach.

For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches or more indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Fighting belly fat

“As you age, it is especially important to maintain a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine, and if you are trying to lose fat, strive for a slow, steady weight-loss program,” says Dr. Montgomery. “It is always wise to seek advice from your physician to ensure you are targeting the fat that is most detrimental to your health — belly fat.” 

For additional healthy lifestyle ideas, visit Health & Wellness.

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