Three Reliable Strategies for Reducing Abdominal (Belly) Fat

Three Reliable Strategies for Reducing Abdominal (Belly) Fat

By Gary Pepper, M.D. and Sam Jeans, MSc

Without a doubt, abdominal (belly) fat is the focus of much of our negative emotion as we get older. Studies have shown that estrogen plays a major role in body fat distribution, hence why women experience a much greater change in visceral fat with age particularly after menopause (400% vs 200% in men between the ages of 30 and 70).

“If women gain weight after menopause, it’s more likely to be in their bellies,”Michael Jensen, M.D., professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic.

Multiple studies, including this one published in the Journal of Menopausal Medicine, have also found that estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) can reduce some of this weight gain. However, estrogen replacement is not without its risks and is unsuitable for many.

Namely, ERT can increase the risk of blood clots leading to strokes and embolisms and cause headaches, swelling, or edema. ERT is also often linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, but studies reviewed by have shown that the risk is only significant after using ERT 10 years or more (in the case of estrogen-only therapy). Combination HRT poses a much greater risk.

As such, ERT is certainly not a ‘silver bullet’ for treating menopause-related abdominal weight gain.

Three Reliable Strategies For Reducing Abdominal Fat

The good news is that it’s possible for virtually anyone to reduce abdominal fat. The bad news is, there’s no real shortcuts and you can’t cheat your way to a trim waist!

For most people, it comes down to those two worrisome words: diet and exercise.

Does Spot Reduction for Abdominal Fat Work?

But wait, is there an easier way? It might seem logical to start an intense abdominal workout regime to tackle excess belly fat. This is known as spot reduction.

The concept of spot reduction is not new, but studies including this one published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research generally show that spot training is ineffective. In fact, the concept of spot training has been almost entirely debunked.

Moreover, spot training doesn’t rate as a great use of exercise time either – you’re likely better off spending that time on other types of holistic core or full body workouts.

However, this isn’t to rule out the benefit of strength and conditioning training with a focus on the abdomen and core, as strengthening this part of the body will boost your metabolism and help you fight age-related weight gain. The studies just show that you can’t ‘target’ one part of the body with one specific exercise.

Strategy 1: Core Exercises Without the Sit-ups

Spot training doesn’t work in the way many imagine it to work, but core training is an excellent way to lose weight in general. Core training will strengthen the abdominal muscles, which will increase muscle tone in the area and also help deal with over-stretched skin.

In recent years, sit-ups have fallen out of favor as they put immense strain on the back. Harvard Health suggests that they would be replaced with planking, which is excellent for the core and easier on the back.

Mountain climbers and burpees are also great alternatives to sit-ups and both can be modified to reduce joint strain and impact.

  • Exercise the core and legs to support muscle mass and increase metabolism.
  • Core exercises also build stability and balance, which become increasingly important with age.
  • Skip the crunches and sit-ups in favor of mountain climbers, burpees, and planks.

Strategy 2: HIIT For Cardio

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a recurring theme in any article aimed at helping people lose abdominal fat. In a nutshell, HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by rest periods, with the average session lasting around 15 minutes at the most.

HIIT burns calories quicker and more efficiently than steady-state cardio (e.g. a treadmill). It’s also easier to slot into your day and you can spend the rest of your workout time on strength training.

Those who aren’t used to intense exercise should seek advice before starting a HIIT training regime, though studies have shown that even lower intensity sessions are excellent for burning calories and improving cardiovascular health.

  • High-intensity interval training is a quick and efficient way to burn calories.
  • Almost any exercise can be used in a HIIT training regime, so you can pick your favorite one.
  • For seniors, HIIT is still generally safe and the benefits are proven even when the intensity is reduced to what one can handle.

Strategy 3: Make Long-Term Dietary Changes

You may often hear that diet is more important than exercise when it comes to losing weight, and this is generally true. As the old adage goes; “you are what you eat”!

In our previous article, we explored how different types of food affect the metabolism (i.e. the thermic effect of food). Protein uses more energy to digest than fat or carbs, so switching to a protein-rich diet that incorporates more raw, unprocessed foods is ideal for burning abdominal fat.

There are various diets proposed for dealing with hormonal changes relating to age or menopause, and perhaps the most promising is the Mediterranean diet. The people of Mediterranean countries in Southern Europe enjoy some of the lowest rates of cardiovascular and heart disease, as well as lower rates of degenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s), diabetes, and even some cancers.

Harvard Health has created a diet review of the Mediterranean diet here. In essence, it involves consuming less red meat and more fish, more raw foods and healthy fats (e.g. from olive oil), and drinking practically mostly water.

Avocados, seeds, nuts, and oily fish all feature prolifically, as well as heaps of dark leafy greens. Oh, and you can still eat cheese and drink wine in limited quantities (this is a Mediterranean diet, after all!).

  • Cut processed foods from the diet wherever possible.
  • Bump up consumption of raw and unprocessed foods (but make sure you don’t overcompensate with high-fat options like nuts).
  • Don’t forget to avoid sugary drinks. Choose water instead.

Summary: Abdominal Fat and How to Lose It

It’s important to understand that abdominal fat is NOT the same as generalized body fat (subcutaneous fat).

For those with an hourglass body shape and thin waist, this is perhaps good news.

For those suffering from the beer belly or middle-age spread, this is probably not good news! And let’s face it, more people fall into this category.

Abdominal fat is worse than any other fat and a bulging waistline is a cause for action, even if the rest of you is relatively slim. Whilst it can be stubborn, abdominal fat is not unshiftable and with dedication and perseverance, it’s possible to shift even the most problematic fat.


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What is Metabolism and How Does it Change with Age?

What is Metabolism and How Does it Change with Age?

What is metabolismWhat is Metabolism and How Does It Change with Age?

By Gary M. Pepper, M.D. and Sam Jeans, MSc

Our bodies undergo many transitions as we age, some good and some not so good!

In the latter category of “not so good”, many people tend to struggle more with their weight as they get older. Obesity rates are higher in older populations, and in the United States, more than 30% of both men and women over 60 are obese.

Obesity in older age brings about much of the same risks as it does at any age, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and mobility problems, and the risks climb ever higher with each year that goes by!

Unraveling what happens to our metabolism as we age helps provide strategies for staying healthy and reducing the risks of putting on excess weight. The popular consensus is that, as we age, our bodies ‘slow down’, which makes it tougher to keep weight off, but does that really tell the whole story?

Metabolism Defined

At its most fundamental, metabolism encompasses every chemical process required to sustain life. It’s easy to confuse the entire concept of metabolism with just the basal metabolic rate (BMR) alone, but this is just one component of metabolism.

Many people use the terms interchangeably, whereas, in fact, there are three main components to metabolism:

1: The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The body is in constant motion, so even when we’re totally sedentary, sleeping, or otherwise at rest, we require energy and nutrients to function correctly.

So long as the heart pumps, the lungs breathe and the body and its organs go about their business growing and repairing cells, we are utilizing energy in one form or another, and this is our basal metabolic rate (BMR).

The BMR varies depending on the following factors:

  • Body Size and Muscle: Larger bodies have greater energy demands and higher BMRs.
  • Lean Muscle Tissue: Whilst it’s true that larger bodies have greater energy demands, BMR also increases relative to the proportion of the body that is made up of lean muscle. Muscle burns more energy than most other tissues.
  • Body Fat Percentage: Fat burns energy at a much lesser rate than most cells. A high body fat percentage relative to lean muscle tissue results in a lower BMR, even if the body itself is physically larger.
  • Age: Age does affect the BMR for a few different reasons, which we will discuss shortly.
  • Growth: Younger children have generally higher BMRs due to body growth, and they also need more energy to maintain their body temperatures.
  • Gender: Men likely have higher BMRs than women on average as they’re larger and have higher percentages of lean muscle tissue.
  • Genetics: Genetics do play a role in BMR, but there is debate surrounding quite how drastic the influence of genetics is compared to other factors.
  • Hormones: Hormone levels, particularly those governed by the thyroid gland, also influence BMR. Hypothyroidism (sluggish thyroid function) is associated with a lower BMR whereas hyperthyroidism (excessive thyroid function) is associated with elevated BMR. Metabolism-related hormones are also influenced by diet, for example, iodine deficiency may result in an underactive thyroid that lowers BMR.
  • Activity Level: Whilst physical activity burns energy directly as a result of exercise, it also raises BMR by stimulating the growth and repair of new cells, such as muscle cells.
  • Infection: Infections stimulate an immune response that requires energy, thus boosting BMR.
  • Environment/Temperature: Colder environments may increase BMR slightly as our bodies work harder to maintain a stable core temperature. Conversely, hotter environments may increase BMR as our bodies work harder to cool down.


2: Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

The consumption of food itself requires energy and some foods are much easier to digest than others.

It takes considerable effort for our bodies to move food through the digestive system, and our body also needs to absorb and transport nutrients from that food, which further requires energy.

A concept that tends to pop up in various diet plans is ‘calorie negative food’ – that is food that burns more calories to digest than they provide as food. Sadly, there is no evidence that we can ‘eat ourselves thin’ by consuming calorie-negative food!

TEF varies considerably depending on the food consumed and its macronutrients content:

  • Fat has a thermic effect of some 0 to 5%, which means that for every 100 calories of fat consumed, the body burns just 0 to 5 calories
  • Carbohydrates have a thermic effect of around 5 to 10%, so for every 100 calories of carbs consumed, the body burns just 5 to 10 calories.
  • Protein has a much higher thermic effect of around 20 to 30%, so for every 100 calories of protein consumed, the body burns 30 calories (Source: Healthline).

Overall, TEF accounts for around 5 to 10% of our daily energy demands. This is increased when we consume a high-protein and low-fat diet.

3: Thermic Effect of Exercise (TEE)

Thirdly, our body requires energy to sustain movement and exercise. This is highly variable and obviously depends on physical activity levels – the more we move, the more energy we require to breathe, fuel our muscles, and repair cells.

Common estimates suggest that physical exercise uses between 15% and 30% of average daily energy expenditure. Engaging in intense or protracted physical exercise ( such as running a marathon) will increase that figure.

The total accumulative energy required for these 3 metabolic components – BMR, TEF, and TEE, makes up our total daily energy expenditure.

In Part 2 of this article, we will cover how aging affects our metabolism and what we can do about it. Check back at for the publication date.

Disclaimer: This and all articles at are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice or treatment. By choosing to view this article you agree to the Terms of Use of Metabolink, Inc which can be found at


Lovey Needs Encouragement to Deal with Her Condition

Sad LadyLovey posts this sad message to Many of the members here have been through this type of paralyzing doubt and have found a way to get the help they need. So, if you have a minute to spare, in the spirit of the season, why not offer Lovey a message that will help her get her nerve up to go to the doctor.

Lovey writes:

Hi, I’m too scared to go to the doc as I have a large lump in my throat. I don’t know much about thyroids or how it works an wat the worse case situations r. Alls I know is that the lump is about as round n size of a golf ball maybe abit smaller. I’ve had this lump for about 4 years an it’s recently started to get bigger. Ive gain about 12kg in about 8 months but I still do everything the same. I weigh 75 kg an MT height is 174cm. Something is wrong isn’t it!!!

Here is my reply to her;

Hi Lovey

A sluggish thyroid often produces a “lump” in the neck (which is the enlarged thyroid) and weight gain due to a slow metabolism. I’m not sure if you believe me but there really isn’t anything to be scared about. For example, if it turns out your thyroid is under active (low functioning or hypothyroid) the treatment is very simple. For most people taking one pill per day is all that is required to get back to normal. May people with hypothyroid are taking their thyroid pill and feel fine.

It’s hard to say exactly what the problem is in your case, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is something like hypothyroidism, which could be fixed so easily.

So please get yourself to a doctor, clinic or whatever and have them look into this. Then you can stop worrying so much.

Okay? Let us know what happens. I’m asking other members here to give you their words of support as well, since many of the members here have gone through what you are experiencing and are happy they received proper treatment.

Dr. G. Pepper

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