While both men and women may accumulate belly fat, menopausal women are often the hardest hit, as the ratio of fat to muscle changes and fat starts to be deposited higher on the body. During the childbearing years, fat is more likely to accumulate in the hips and thighs. At menopause, as estrogen declines, cortisol, the hormone your body produces when you are under stress, increases; and due to the hormonal changes that occur during menopause, the midsection often expands after middle age.
Abdominal, or visceral, fat is different than the subcutaneous fat on the surface near the skin. Visceral fat is deeper in your abdominal cavity, padding the spaces between the organs in your midsection. This type of fat is associated with heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. As you age, your metabolism rate declines and you begin to have a more difficult time burning off excess fat, especially if you are a woman. Some people are also genetically predisposed to fat deposition in the tummy and midsection.
Visceral fat cells are not just energy storehouses, but instead play a role in churning out a variety of hormones that have effects on bodily processes such as insulin resistance and breast cancer. Your body has a good reason for depositing fat in your midsection, because unlike body parts such as arms and legs that you must swing and move frequently, the torso is an ideal location because it takes the least amount of energy to store it there. Your body will also preferentially store fat wherever you already have existing fat cells formed earlier in your life.
Body Shape and Hormonal Factors
According to Harvard Medical School, if you are pear-shaped, with much of your fat in your thighs and bottom, the fat you are dealing with is probably more subcutaneous fat. However, if your body is more apple-shaped, with your fat stores concentrated right around your middle, you are much more likely to also have visceral fat underneath. At menopause, as estrogen declines, cortisol, the hormone your body produces when you are under stress, increases. High cortisol levels are associated with visceral fat accumulation, but other hormonal changes after menopause may also contribute to accumulation of this dangerous fat.
Even if you are of a normal weight and are not experiencing weight gain, you need to be aware that the fat you already had on your body may be shifting locations due to the hormonal changes your body is experiencing.
Regular exercise is one effective method for staving off the accumulation of fat around your midsection, according to Harvard Medical School. Duke University Medical Center researchers showed that sedentary participants in a study gained almost 9 percent in visceral fat in only six months. Those who exercised a moderate amount did not add visceral fat, and those who exercised at an even higher level actually lost some of their subcutaneous fat. Using weights when you exercise can help you reduce belly fat. Your dietary choices are also important. You should eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta.