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Revealed! How To Banish The Midlife Belly Bulge

Why it's happening and what we can do about it.

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Chris O'Riley (Yasu & Junko/Trunk Archive)
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There are many things I love about growing older, but slowly gaining weight — especially around my waist — isn’t one of them. My clothes don't fit anymore, so I resort to wearing pants with elastic waistbands and large tops that don’t cling to my expanding midsection. I’ve let this go for too long. Therefore, I decided to look into why this is happening and what I can do about it.

I learned that most women around the ages of 45-55 experience these physiological changes that cause “Hormonal Bellies” due to decreasing levels of estrogen. In addition to our hot sweats, mood swings and irregular periods (among other things), we may also blame menopause for our bulging bellies too.

During childbearing years, women tend to gain weight around their hips and thighs. But as we age, we start storing fat in our stomachs. It’s a natural phenomenon that’s somewhat out of our control as our metabolism slows down and our hormonal production does too. Our belly fat is made up of subcutaneous fat stored just underneath our skin and the more concerning visceral fat that surrounds our internal organs. It’s the deep visceral fat that raises our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and other serious health conditions.

Many women might work hard to whittle their middle down to no avail, because that fat storage is stubborn and isolating one part of the body won’t effectively eliminate our belly bulge. We may not have control over our hormones (although there are hormone replacement therapy options), but we do have control over other lifestyle changes we can make to lose weight and consequently slim our stomachs down too.

Eat a healthy diet.  

It's no surprise that what we eat plays a big part in our weight and overall health. Health professionals recommend lowering our calorie intake by limiting the obvious high-fat culprits like baked goods, processed foods and all those sugary drinks we love. Refined carbohydrates have also been proven to increase belly fat, so cutting bread, white rice and chips in exchange for more complex carbs like veggies, fruit and whole-grain foods would make a big difference. We should also add more protein to our diet with lean meats, legumes and nuts while cutting out fatty beef and processed meats. And reducing our alcohol consumption will also help because most drinks are full of empty calories and loaded with sugar. 

Increase cardiovascular exercise.  

The key to any weight loss is decreasing caloric intake and increasing physical output to make a deficit that results in losing fat and pounds. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week for adults. If you already have an exercise routine, you might need to step it up in frequency, duration or exertion to lose weight. Cardiovascular exercise is great for overall health and general weight loss, because it raises our slowing metabolism, which in turn burns more calories.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, you can pick an activity like walking, biking, swimming or playing any sport you enjoy. Make sure you choose an exercise that works best for you, and that it's something you can stick with longterm. If you have a desk job, make sure you get up regularly and take a few laps around the office or go for a brisk 10-minute walk outside when you can. The more sedentary we are, the more challenging it will be to lose weight and get in shape. 

Add strength training and core-building exercises.  

In addition to the calorie-burning cardio, we might want to add resistance or weight training at least two days a week. Building lean muscle mass will help us lose and keep the weight off, because our bodies will continue to burn calories even after our workouts. Focusing on our core will tighten those midsection muscles and strengthen our trunk, legs and back, which will also help with your posture if you're slumping like me.

If you don’t belong to a gym or have weight machines at home, you can still be successful with resistance exercises that use your body weight, such as push-ups, planks and squats. There are also a variety of abdominal and core exercises you can do at home too. If you haven’t done them before (like me!), make sure you don’t overdo it at first, since making slow progress is most effective.

Get enough sleep. 

Many women struggle with insomnia during menopause, which can be frustrating and also contribute to weight gain. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule is key to our overall health too. An optimal night’s sleep for middle-aged women is around seven hours. If you struggle with sleep disturbances, there are specific things you can do to sleep more soundly.

Manage stress.  

Stress can be a major factor affecting our health, and it can also play a part in our weight. When we are stressed, our adrenal glands produce cortisol, which is a stress hormone known to trigger our body to store more fat. It is also known to increase our appetites and food cravings. For some women, stress often triggers emotional eating too. For reasons including weight loss, it's important that we find healthy ways to ward off stress. 

Want to know more about healthy eating? Check out AARP's book "The Whole Body Reset" to find out more about nutrition and getting fit.

How do you deal with your belly bulge? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health