Michael Jensen, M.D., an endocrinology specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., answers common questions about belly fat in men.
Why is belly fat a concern for men?
People who gain belly fat are at greater risk of serious health problems than are people who accumulate fat in other areas and men are more likely than women to gain weight around the waist. Having a large amount of belly fat increases your risk of:
- Heart disease
- Some types of cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Insulin resistance
- High triglycerides
- Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
Your waist size is a good indicator of whether you have too much belly fat. Although measurements that compare your hip and waist circumference (waist-to-hip ratio) or compare your height and weight (body mass index) are more precise, your waist size alone can give you a good estimate. For most men, the risk factors for heart disease and other diseases increase with a waist size greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters).
To measure your waist:
- Place a tape measure around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone.
- Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you but doesn't push into your skin.
- Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.
- Relax, exhale and measure your waist - no sucking in your belly!
As you age, you lose muscle - especially if you're not physically active. Muscle loss can slow the rate at which your body burns calories. In turn, if you don't limit your calories or increase your physical activity, you may gain weight.
Is belly fat inherited?
Your genes can affect your chances of being overweight or obese, as well as where you carry extra fat on your body. For most men, however, the problem likely has more to do with lifestyle than inherited traits.
Can you really get a beer belly from drinking?
Drinking excess alcohol can cause you to gain belly fat - the "beer belly." However, beer alone isn't to blame. Drinking too much alcohol of any kind can increase belly fat, although some research suggests wine may be an exception. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Limiting yourself to two drinks a day will reduce the amount of calories you consume and help you avoid gaining belly fat. It's also better for your overall health.
How do you get rid of belly fat?
Whether you're trying to lose belly fat or trim fat from another part of your body, weight-loss basics remain the same:
- Reduce calories. Reduce your portion sizes. Replace your usual fare with healthy foods that contain fewer calories.
- Increase physical activity. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, in addition to strength training. You may need to do more to lose weight and keep it off.
- After you shed excess pounds, maintain your weight loss with a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
Sit-ups help make your abdominal muscles stronger, but spot exercises alone won't specifically reduce belly fat. The best way to shrink your waist size is to lower your total body fat through healthy eating and exercise.
If you have a spare tire, don't despair. You can lose belly fat - it just takes patience and effort. In fact, shedding even a few extra pounds can help you feel better and lower your risk of health problems.