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What Causes Lower Belly Fat?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
What Causes Lower Belly Fat?
Fat in your lower belly endangers your health. Photo Credit IAN HOOTON/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Lower belly fat has a number of causes, including aging, your gender and what you eat. Your lifestyle behaviors also explain why it's developed and is sticking around. Making changes to your diet and exercise routine, as well as your sleep schedule and how you handle stress, can help you reduce this dangerous fat.

Issues With Fat in the Lower Belly

Lower belly fat consists of two kinds of fat: visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat lies deep inside your abdomen, packed around the internal organs. It pushes out on the subcutaneous fat, which is just under the skin around your torso, hips, thighs and arms. Visceral fat is more dangerous, secreting hormones and compounds that raise your risk of disease, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. As visceral fat makes your midsection expand outward, the subcutaneous fat there can sometimes droop from the weight into the lower region of your belly.

The metabolically active nature of visceral fat deep within your lower belly means it breaks down more quickly to enter your blood stream faster and restocks quickly -- at a rate faster than it diminishes. Because it breaks down quickly, it's easier to lose with dietary and exercise interventions than subcutaneous fat is..

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Aging and Hormonal Causes of Lower Belly Fat

As you age, belly fat tends to accumulate -- hence the term, "middle-age spread." You naturally lose muscle mass as you age, and excess calories are more easily stored as fat, particularly in the belly.

Hormonal changes also make belly fat develop. Women, in child-bearing years, tend to gain fat in their hips, thighs and buttocks to supply a reserve of energy during pregnancy and breastfeeding. As their levels of estrogen drop during menopause, fat migrates more to the belly. Men always have a tendency to develop belly fat, but there's no known physiological reason why. Once hormone levels of testosterone start to reduce in men after age 40, belly fat gain expedites.

Dietary Choices and Lower Belly Fat

You can develop lower belly fat at any age, though. The food you eat daily plays a serious role. The Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2009 published a study showing that consuming a significant amount -- about 25 percent of calories over just 10 weeks -- of fructose-sweetened drinks, including soda and fruit punches, increases visceral fat development. Other sugary foods can be to blame as well. Reduce your intake of candy, soda and processed baked goods to help lose your belly.

Refined grains, including white bread and commercial pizza crust, also encourage the development of lower belly fat. In a 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that increasing intake of refined grains correlated with more belly fat, while increased intakes of whole grains did not. Choose 100-percent whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice or quinoa instead of white-flour options.

Over-consuming saturated fats makes your belly swell. These fats are found primarily in animal products, such as fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy. Trade them for polyunsaturated fats in salmon, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Lifestyle Choices Lead to Lower Belly Fat

Your lower belly fat may also be a result of sedentary behaviors. If you aren't burning the calories you consume, the excess accumulates in your belly. Getting more active, such as working up to 150 minutes -- or longer -- of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity per week helps. You'll also benefit from being active all day long with small movements such as fidgeting and pacing.

Lower belly fat also reveals poor sleep habits. Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine examined five years of sleep habits and visceral fat accumulation in adults younger than 40; they found that those who slept less than six hours per night or more than nine hours, on average, had higher amounts of belly fat. Their results, published in Sleep in 2010, suggest that getting a good night's sleep helps deter the development of lower belly fat.

The more you stress, the fatter you may become. Stress, from bills, family or work, causes you to produce more cortisol, a hormone that encourages your body to store excess calories as belly fat. Mindless eating and cravings for high-calorie, high-fat foods also accompany stress for a lot of people. Seek out alternative ways to deal with stress, such as talking with a friend or practicing yoga.

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