Losing belly fat at any age is a challenge, but it seems even more difficult to achieve over age 60. As you age, having a more sedentary lifestyle, changes in hormones and a natural loss of muscle mass makes it more likely that your waistband will expand. To lose belly fat, it's key to combine physical activity and a lower calorie diet that's focused on unprocessed foods. This strategy works to reduce belly fat -- no matter the age in chronological years.
The Perils of Belly Fat
As you age -- even if your weight on the scale doesn't change -- you may notice that your belly increases in size. The development of visceral fat -- which is deep, internal belly fat that surrounds your internal organs and interferes with liver function -- increases your risk of heart disease and sets you up for type 2 diabetes. Visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fat, which lies right beneath the skin on your hips, legs and arms. This reduction of estrogen in women and testosterone in men after age 40 means that fat will go to the abdomen more easily. As you age, fat is more likely to accumulate as belly fat instead of going to other parts of the body.
If you intervene with diet and exercise, belly fat will shrink. A study published in the journal Obesity in 2012 showed that after one year, post-menopausal, overweight women who participated in 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week and who reduced their caloric intake, experienced a notable reduction in their body mass index, waist size and percentage of body fat. Although this study only included women, the same strategy can be effective for men, too.
Understand Why You Gain Belly Fat
As you age, you can't avoid gaining some belly fat and you won't be able to lose all of it, but you can minimize its appearance and its negative health effects with lifestyle and dietary interventions.
Starting at age 30, you begin to experience sarcopenia, which is the natural loss of muscle mass that naturally occurs with aging. The American Association of Retired Persons states that this loss is approximately a pound a year after 30 -- if you don't engage in strength training to preserve your muscle tissue. By 60 -- with no exercise -- you may have lost about 30 pounds of muscle mass, replacing the muscle mostly with fat. Fat is less efficient at burning calories than muscle is, which means that your body's resting metabolism also declines. So, even if you eat the same amount of food as you did when you were younger, you will likely gain weight.
To prevent weight gain with your slowing metabolism, you need to reduce your daily caloric intake by about 100 calories every 10 years after age 40. So, at 60 or older, you should consume at least 200 fewer calories every day than when you were in your 30s.
Dietary Intervention to Lose Belly Fat
To lose belly fat, you need to reduce your calorie intake even more. To lose a pound of fat, you must eat 3,500 calories fewer than you burn. A reduction of 500 to 1,000 calories a day results in a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week. For some people over 60, this caloric deficit is too aggressive and will put them at a caloric intake that's too low to provide optimal nutrients and energy. For example, the average sedentary woman over 50 may burn only 1,600 calories a day. Reducing that intake by 500 calories leaves you with only1,100 calories a day, which is extremely difficult to sustain long term. You might need to modify your weight-loss goal to lose approximately 1/2 pound per week, which requires a 250-calorie deficit a day. Increasing physical activity can also help you raise your daily burn so that you can create a 500-calorie deficit.
When you make your meals, forgo refined grains -- such as white bread and pasta -- for whole grains and fresh, green vegetables. These foods contain fiber, which promotes gut health and these foods also take longer to digest -- so that you won't feel as ravenous when reducing portion sizes. Emphasize lean proteins, such as skinless poultry, eggs, trimmed steak and fish, at every meal. Keep fried foods, sugar, processed snacks, alcohol and full-fat dairy to a minimum. Do include moderate portions of monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, too; this fat should account for 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include olive oil, fatty fish and nuts.
Exercise at Any Age Reduces Belly Fat
An active, physical lifestyle is a critical step toward losing belly fat and maintaining a healthy weight -- especially as you age. Engage in strength training for all your major muscle groups at least twice a week to help offset the natural loss of muscle mass. You can start strength training at any age to see this benefit. Increase your weight and intensity gradually, and consult a fitness professional for guidance.
Engaging in cardiovascular exercise more 250 minutes a week can lead to significant weight loss, reports the American College of Sports Medicine. In 2013, the journal Plos One published a review of research -- which asserted that even without major dietary changes -- engaging in moderate or high intensity aerobic training can reduce visceral fat in overweight men and women after 12 weeks. This doesn't mean that you can get away with not changing your diet -- this result demonstrates the power of physical activity.
Consider other ways you can be more active every day. Take the stairs, park farther out in the parking lot, pace while you're on the phone, walk your dog twice a day and play actively with your grandchildren. These small changes enable you to burn a greater number of calories all day, promoting faster weight loss.
- AARP: How to Lose Your Spare Tire
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Rush University Medical Center: Is There 'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Chapter 2: Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
- Ask the Dietitian: Overweight & Weight Loss
- Obesity: Effect of Diet and Exercise, Alone or Combined, on Weight and Body Composition in Overweight-to-Obese Post-Menopausal Women
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- Plos One: The Effect of Exercise on Visceral Adipose Tissue in Overweight Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis