Muffin top, beer gut, spare tyre – whatever you call it, there’s no denying extra fat tends to accumulate around the belly as we age. But is the dreaded “middle-age spread” a part of ageing, or an avoidable phenomenon?
Less muscles means more fat
Women reach peak physical condition in their late teens or early 20s, in line with men. The bad news is that from this point on our body is on a downhill trajectory. From this point, we start to lose hormones that are associated with the development of lean muscle mass, and our sex hormones start to decline.
Because the sex and growth hormones are more closely associated with the deposition of muscle than fat, this decline leads to weight gain. Muscle tissue burns more kilojoules than fat tissue, so less muscle mass means your metabolism slows as less energy is required to keep the body functioning at a base level – and more energy is stored as fat. Some studies suggest we lose about three kilograms of lean muscle every decade from middle age.
The body tends to store this extra fat around the abdomen, especially in post-menopausal women. When the body produces oestrogen it tends to favour the distribution of fat around the buttocks and thighs (in order to provide sufficient kilojoules for pregnancy and breastfeeding) but when estrogen production decreases during menopause the fat shifts to the midsection.
There is also some evidence to suggest that a drop in estrogen levels at menopause is linked to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat. Heredity is also thought to influence where a woman’s fat is deposited.
Lifestyle factors also contribute to the middle age spread. We tend to continue to eat in the same fashion as we always have and tend to be less physically active as we age. We’re less involved in sports, we’re more likely to use a car and less likely to take the stairs instead of the lift.
How to prevent (and reverse) the paunch
The upside is that even if you have a predisposition towards weight gain in middle age, there’s a lot you can do to prevent the paunch. And while it’s a lot easier to prevent weight gain than it is to shed kilos, reversing the spread is possible.
In both cases, building muscle mass – which burns fat – and speeding up your metabolism with resistance exercise is key. Resistance training is simply anything that requires you to push against a weight.
At the gym there are heaps of ways to promote muscle growth. Use free weights like dumbbells or barbells, do a session on the weights machines or use your body
weight as resistance by doing push-ups and squats.
Resistance training, combined with a clean healthy eating plan will see that muffin top start to disappear in no time and have you feeling great again!
Don’t forget to choose fresh food over packages foods and eat smaller portions 6 times a day. Include plenty of vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, healthy oils, good fats, nuts and seeds to your diet. If your food is packages, be sure to look at the first five ingredients on the nutrition information panel and if sugar or fat are in the list, avoid this food!
To keep your metabolism firing, be sure to eat breakfast every day and you must avoid skipping meals.