Belly fat, or abdominal fat, is a form of fat that accumulates in the lower torsos of both men and women. In women, fat distribution changes associated with menopause can increase levels of belly fat, even when overall weight remains constant. Fortunately, there are methods to combat this tendency and promote the loss of harmful fat.
In the years prior to menopause, your metabolism slows down and your fat levels begin to increase, according to the Mayo Clinic. After menopause, fat levels in your arms, hips and legs will generally decrease. However, this fat does not disappear. Instead, decreases in your estrogen levels trigger alterations in your body’s patterns of fat breakdown and storage, leading to an increased accumulation of abdominal fat. This trend occurs even if you do not gain any overall percentage of body fat or weight.
Belly Fat Risks
Unfortunately, fat gain in your abdomen has more than cosmetic consequences, according to Harvard Medical School. In addition to the fat you can feel when you pinch your midsection—called subcutaneous fat—your body contains a deeper layer of abdominal fat, called visceral fat, which forms in the spaces between your abdominal organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which carries its own set of health risks, visceral fat is biologically active, and can produce hormones and other substances that significantly increase your risks for the development of a number of conditions, including breast and colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder malfunction and heart disease.
Estimating Belly Fat
You can estimate your accumulation of menopause-related belly fat—and your associated health risks—by measuring your waist in the area of your navel, the Mayo Clinic reports. If you have a waistline in excess of 33 to 35 inches, you may have a dangerous amount of abdominal fat. Because of changes in your body fat distribution, the method of body weight measurement called body mass index, or BMI, will not effectively reflect your abdominal fat levels.
Losing Belly Fat
Although you may have difficulty losing subcutaneous fat, you can lose more dangerous visceral fat through changes in diet and exercise, Harvard Medical School explains. Dietary changes that promote the loss of belly fat include reduction of your intake of saturated fat and simple carbohydrates such as refined pasta and white bread, and increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Effective exercise-related changes include the adoption of a program of moderate daily activity and strength training.
Typically, you cannot target your belly fat with specific exercises, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, you can improve the appearance of your belly with exercises that activate your lower abdomen and deep abdominal muscles. Examples of these exercises include abdominal hollowing, pelvic tilts and pelvic lifts. In some cases, your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy to address the effects of menopause. However, this treatment might not substantially alter your belly fat levels.