As you get older, you may start to notice your body changing. The fat that used to migrate toward your hips and thighs giving you that curvy, hourglass figure is now taking a detour and settling in your belly.
So, what's to blame for belly fat, and how can women over 60 get a strong, flat core?
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What Causes Stomach Fat for Women as They Age?
Unfortunately, older adults are likely to weigh more than younger adults, according to a May 2022 investigation in the Journal of Obesity. The study looked at nearly 14,000 U.S. adults over 10 years and found they gained an average of about 6 pounds over the time period, with weight gain being significantly higher in women. (Note that "women" was the term used by the study authors; LIVESTRONG.com tries to use more inclusive language around sex and gender when possible.)
For women, the reasons for age-related weight gain are as follows:
1. Activity Declines
Most people tend to dramatically decrease their physical activity (and thus, calories burned) as they get older, according to ACE, which means they're burning fewer calories on a daily basis. Over time, this lack of activity and surplus of calories leads to weight gain.
2. Metabolism Dips
Your metabolism typically drops over time as well, according to ACE. A big part of this is the loss of muscle mass, or sarcopenia, which naturally happens as you age. Muscle burns more calories (even at rest) than fat, so a fattier body composition means fewer calories burned.
3. Hormones Change
Wait, there's more bad news. Pre-menopausal women — thanks to estrogen — generally store more fat in their hips, thighs and butts to support pregnancy and breastfeeding, according to ACE. But as menopause starts to move in, estrogen levels take a dip and the fat redistributes to the midsection.
A September 2012 review in Climacteric found that hormonal changes begin even before menopause and significantly contribute to abdominal obesity.
Finally — the good news! Women over 60 can still sport a flat stomach by eating right and exercising regularly. And while certain moves can help keep the ab muscles from going flaccid, they won't independently flatten a rounded tummy. You need to work the whole core. But more on that in a bit.
Why Core Strength Is Important as You Age
Core strengthening is crucial for seniors, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), as it can help alleviate and improve balance and coordination deficits, back pain and poor muscle endurance. Having a stronger core can lessen the risk of falls and improve an older person's ability to remain independent.
The Core Muscles
The whopping 29 muscles — per the Mayo Clinic — that make up the core are located throughout much of your trunk and are pivotal in supporting your lower back. They start at the lower rib cage and extend to your butt, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Core muscles in the abdomen include the long rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis muscles in the front, and the external and internal obliques on the sides. And a little down further, in the pelvis area, the iliacus and the psoas muscles allow you to lift your legs and stabilize you while standing. And a long muscle on each side — the quadratus lumborum — enables you to bend to the side and back.
Then there's a group of muscles in your back that helps you stand up called the erector spinae. The gluteal muscles (glutes) in the buttocks help you extend your leg, push off from a starting point, walk and climb stairs.
How Does Core Strength Affect Posture?
Stand up straight! You've heard it at one time or another. Can you guess what contributes to slouching? Weak core muscles. Good posture lessens deterioration of the spine, lets you breathe deeply and helps you completely benefit from the effort you put into all that working out. And of course, good posture trims your shape and projects confidence, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
How Do You Strengthen Your Core After 60?
1. Keep Up With Cardio
First things first: After 60, you need to stay physically active during the day to further help prevent excess weight from accumulating at your belly. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity workouts, recommends the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Hiking, walking, biking, jogging, dancing and tennis all count as cardio and can help you lose weight and may help your belly stay slim.
2. Strength Train
Don't abandon ab-specific moves; add them to a total-body strength-training routine. If you already lift weights, keep going! Just make an effort to strength train at least twice a week.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Focus on a diet that consists mostly of lean proteins, fresh vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, per the Mayo Clinic. Remember that you may need fewer calories than you did in your 30sand 40s, as the natural reduction in muscle that you experience as you age leads to a decrease in your metabolism.
As for foods to avoid: Nix refined carbs (white bread and pasta, white rice, breakfast cereals, bagels, desserts). A July 2019 review in Medical Hypotheses found that the consumption of refined carbs was linked to obesity as well as insulin resistance, which leads to belly fat.
Best Core Exercises for a Flat Stomach After 60
The most efficient approach to strengthening your core is working several core muscle groups at the same time, as if you were lifting something or climbing naturally, per Harvard Health Publishing.
"The center of your body should be the strongest, but for most people, it's not," says NASM-certified personal trainer Russell Matmon, owner of Pump Fitness in Monroe, New Jersey.
For older adults, Matmon recommends the following body-weight moves in particular to build core strength. All you need for each one is a non-slip surface like a mat or carpet.
- Start on all fours. While leaning on your forearms (stacked below your shoulders), stretch your legs outward/behind you, shoulder-width apart, as if you were in a pushup position. Your forearms and toe should be supporting your body off the floor. Squeeze your glutes, keep your core tight and your back flat — your whole body should be one straight line.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Do 8 to 10 reps.
- Start easy by bringing your knees down to the floor, keeping your torso at an incline. Keep your core engaged and your hips low, while holding up your body.
- Once the forearm plank is mastered, you can try different variations like a high plank (done on the palms of your hands), a side plank or a reverse plank, and go for longer!
- Recent or chronic injury to the arms, back or shoulders.
- Start by lying on your back in the supine position. Bend your knees as your feet stay flat on the floor. Tighten your glutes and your core, and raise your hips up off the floor, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Hold to 30 to 40 seconds.
- Do 8 to 10 reps.
Advance the move:
- Once this is mastered, you can try to balance your feet on a bosu or exercise ball while bridging; a single-leg bridge; or a straight-leg bridge (instead of knees bent).
- Disc problems in your neck and back
- Knee issues
3. Opposite Arm and Leg Raise (Birddog)
- Start on your hands and knees — palms flat on the floor. Head and spine should be in a straight line. Start by slowly stretching right arm straight out in front of you and the left leg behind you. Hold for a few seconds while contracting your core, arm and leg muscles as they support your body. Return to starting position and then repeat move with opposite arm and leg.
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
- Want to start out slow? Keep your hands to the floor and just practice pushing your legs out first.
- Arm or shoulder injuries
- Hip and knee issues
- People who have undergone spinal, abdominal, ankle and knee surgeries should be cautious
- Start by lying on the floor, face down on your stomach with your arms and legs extended. Your neck stays in a neutral position. Simultaneously — while arching your back — lift both arms and legs off the floor and up to the ceiling, forming a U with your body.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
- Instead of lifting both arms and both legs up simultaneously, lift the right arm up with left leg, and then switch for the alternating superman.
- Knee, ankle and shoulder injuries
- Spinal, abdominal, ankle and knee surgeries
5. The Hundred
- Begin on your back with your legs lifted and knees bent at 90 degrees. Lift your head, neck and shoulders up off the floor as well as your arms. Extend your legs out to a 45-degree angle with the floor. Pump your arms like you're splashing water.
- Inhale for five pumps, exhale for five pumps to complete one cycle.
- Repeat the cycle 10 times.
- Keep your legs flat on the floor instead of raising them.
- Disc problems in your neck and back
More Workouts and Exercise Tips
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: "Chp. 4. Active Adults"
- American Council on Exercise: "Is it True that Metabolism Decreases with Age?"
- American Council on Exercise: "The Connection Between Exercise and Menopause"
- Climacteric: "Understanding Weight Gain at Menopause"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Core Exercises for Seniors: Training the Core for Older Populations"
- Mayo Clinic: "Core Muscle Strength — Why it’s Important to Maintain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Best Core Exercises for Older Adults"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight Loss Basics"
- Medical Hypotheses: "Refined Carbohydrates, Phenotypic Plasticity and the Obesity Epidemic"
- Russell Matmon, CPT
- Journal of Obesity: "10-Year Weight Gain in 13,802 US Adults: The Role of Age, Sex, and Race"