Many things can cause a fat "apron" around the midsection. This overhang of fat and skin is often left behind after a pregnancy or after losing a lot of weight. It's also common in older people who have excess fat around the tummy and a loss of skin elasticity.
This flap of skin is difficult to get rid of — even in young people. Older people face more of a challenge when trying to burn stored belly fat. Becoming more active and eating a healthier diet will help you shrink your apron fat.
A healthy, calorie-controlled diet and regular physical activity will help you reduce your belly fat apron.
Belly Fat Explained
Abdominal fat can creep on over years, sometimes without you even noticing. Typically this is the result of a chronic calorie imbalance, or eating more than your body needs each day to function. Your body stores this extra energy as fat, and where it tends to store it has to do with genetics. If you're "apple-shaped," your body is more likely to pack on fat around the waistline.
There are two types of body fat: subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is the type just underneath the skin that you can pinch; visceral fat is the type that sits in between your organs in your abdominal cavity. If your belly protrudes, you likely have excess visceral fat. If your stomach isn't distended, but you just have a flap of skin and fat that hangs over your waistband, that's more likely subcutaneous fat.
Having a little too much subcutaneous fat is relatively harmless. Excess visceral fat, because it sits so close to your vital organs, poses a greater risk to your health, increasing your chances of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer's disease. This is the type of fat that is crucial to burn off for much more than aesthetic purposes.
Losing Belly Fat After 65
In a study published in 2017 in the journal Nature, researchers discovered a novel type of specialized immune cell, called a macrophage, located on the nerves in belly fat. With age, these cells become inflamed and prevent neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, from functioning properly. This makes fat cells less responsive to being burned for energy.
This nascent research is just beginning to reveal what people already know through anecdotal evidence: Trying to lose weight at 65 years old is harder than at 25 years old. But it's not impossible.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, belly fat responds well to diet and exercise adjustments. And since the research hasn't yet revealed any way to counteract the macrophage inflammation that hinders belly fat loss in older people, diet and exercise is the only choice — short of surgical methods.
Don't Wait to Get Moving
The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll see results. If you have previously been sedentary, an increase in activity is going to make a big difference. Simply getting up and moving more throughout the day, parking your car farther away from your destination and walking the rest of the way, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can encourage your body to start to burn calories and fat.
However, a regular exercise routine in which you perform an activity that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time and strengthens your muscles will have far greater effects.
Belly Fat Exercises for Seniors
Cardiovascular exercise burns calories while you're doing it. How many calories you burn depends on the length of your workout and the intensity — the harder you work the more calories you'll burn.
But start out slow. Move from walking to a mix of walking and jogging, and then to running, if you are able. Or go to the gym and ride the elliptical machine — which is easier on the joints — at a comfortable pace. Then increase the pace over time to increase the challenge.
Moderate-Intensity and Vigorous Cardio
Health.gov's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Moderate-intensity exercise includes:
- Brisk walking.
- Ballroom or line dancing.
- Recreational swimming.
- Active forms of yoga like vinyasa or power yoga.
- Bicycling at a pace of less than 10 mph and flat terrain.
Vigorous activities include:
- Swimming laps.
- Jogging or running.
- Riding a bike on hilly terrain or on flat terrain at faster than 10 mph.
- Playing singles tennis.
For even greater results, Health.gov recommends doubling the minimum requirement and getting 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
Your Lean Muscle Mass
Building muscle mass is crucial for losing belly fat after 65. According to Harvard Health Publishing, adults may lose 3 to 5 percent of their lean muscle mass each decade after 30. That may partly account for the natural slowing of metabolism that occurs with age — and the resulting increase in belly fat.
If you've never strength trained before, it can be a bit daunting. But it doesn't need to be. You can build muscle in the comfort of your own home doing body weight exercises like squats, lunges, pushups and planks.
But joining a gym is a great idea too. There, you can use the weight-training machines that are usually organized in a circuit to target all the major muscle groups. With diagrams and instructions for how to use them on the machines, it's much simpler than it seems. You can also hire a personal trainer to show you how to do the exercises and design a program with your age and fitness level in mind.
Abdominal exercises are important for building core strength, which will help you function more effectively in everyday life and prevent common injuries older people often experience; however; doing a lot of crunches will not help you lose belly fat.
Control Your Calories
With age, the metabolism slows and activity levels often decline — but people don't change their diets to accommodate these shifts. What happens is a chronic calorie surplus, and weight gain. Once you become more active, it will help balance out the calorie surplus, but you still may need to reduce your calories even more.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, moderately active 66- to 75-year old women and men need 1,800 and 2,200 calories each day, respectively. That amount is necessary to maintain your weight; however if you need to lose weight, you may need to reduce your calorie intake below that.
Easy Ways to Cut Calories
You likely have way better things to do in your golden years than counting calories — so don't. Instead, just eat healthier and be more mindful about your diet. There are a few simple things to keep in mind for shaping up your diet to banish belly fat without becoming a slave to calorie counting.
Ditch the Sugar
Sugary foods and sweetened beverages are the worst foods for belly fat. A cross-sectional analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found that among 2,596 adults, those who regularly consumed sugar-sweetened beverages had 10 percent higher visceral fat volume compared to those who abstained.
Eat More Protein and Fiber
Lean protein and fiber are two of the most satiating components of food. When you eat enough of these foods, you can feel full on fewer calories and stay full for longer after a meal, which helps you control your calorie intake. Plus, fiber may help delay the release of an appetite-stimulating hormone called ghrelin, and protein digestion may increase metabolism.
Because you're not going to count calories, this will be good news: In a study published in 2018 in Nutrition, adults who ate at least 35 grams of fiber and .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, naturally reduced their energy intakes and their weight even though there was no enforced calorie restriction.
Prepare Your Meals Yourself
If you've been relying on fast or frozen meals for sustenance, it's time for a change. A study published in 2015 in Public Health Nutrition determined that people who cooked their meals at home ate a healthier diet and consumed fewer calories and less sugar.
Cooking doesn't have to be a big ordeal. Learn to make several staple dishes with healthy ingredients and put them on rotation. You can also prepare meals in big batches and freeze individual servings for those days you just don't feel like cooking. Pre-portioning your food also helps you stick to recommended serving sizes.
- Harvard Health Publishing: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Diabetes.co.uk: Visceral Fat (Active Fat)
- Nature: Inflammasome-Driven Catecholamine Catabolism in Macrophages Blunts Lipolysis During Ageing
- Health.gov: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition: Chapter 4. Active Adults
- Harvard Health Publishing: Preserve Your Muscle Mass
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- The Journal of Nutrition: Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Is Associated With Abdominal Fat Partitioning in Healthy Adults
- Clinical & Transitional Endocrinology: Fiber Intake Predicts Ghrelin Levels in Overweight and Obese Postmenopausal Women
- LiveWell: How to Speed Up Your Metabolism Naturally
- Nutrition: A Nonrestrictive, Weight Loss Diet Focused on Fiber and Lean Protein Increase.
- Public Health Nutrition: Is Cooking at Home Associated With Better Diet Quality or Weight-Loss Intention?