An increase in belly fat is something we may face as we age. Some of the causes are biological and unavoidable, but others are very much within our control. If you find the middle-aged spread taking hold, this article will share how to lose belly fat after 40
Why do we gain belly fat?
The fat in your abdomen surrounding your organs – called visceral fat – increases as we age for a number of reasons. While that’s the topic of another blog, in short this happens because:
- Hormone levels – testosterone in men and oestrogen in women - decrease
- Metabolism slows significantly after 40
- We generally become less active
- Our diet becomes poorer
There’s little we can do about the first two of these, but the second two are wholly in our control. But if hormone levels and metabolism both drop with age, why don’t we just go with the flow and embrace the middle aged spread?
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Why lose belly fat? Do it for health
While wanting to look better in the mirror is many people’s motivation for losing visceral fat, a much deeper, more powerful motivator is knowing that by losing excess fat you’re literally adding years to your life.
Don’t get me wrong, wanting to look good is worthy motivation, but it can be fickle – we’ve all bought into that diet or training scheme for purely vain reasons, only to lose motivation and return to ‘normal’ after a few weeks. Often that’s because the root motivators for losing the weight are too flimsy and thin.
But when you consider that by losing weight you’re adding years to your life, buying more time with your kids / grandkids and also means you can be more active and lead a fulfilled life – now that provides long-term motivation.
Above all else, you FEEL great when you’re fit and healthy
Waist size and health
Weight is important, but waist size also matters. Having a large waist doubles the risk of death from any cause compared to those with smaller waists, according to a study of 48,500 individuals published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
A large waist was also linked with higher risk of death regardless whether the person was normal weight, overweight or obese.
Now you know reducing waist size is important, what can you do to action it?
1 Lift weights
Sarcopenia – age related muscle loss – affects many but is something we can combat with the right attitude and know-how. Adding resistance training to your weekly schedule is the single greatest thing you can do to reduce sarcopenia.
Like sprint or HIIT training (see #3) lifting weights boosts your EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), meaning you’ll continue to burn calories hours after you finish the session. It also boosts growth hormone and increases your muscle mass which is more ‘energy hungry’ than fat, thus burning more calories to maintain.
Pick up, and then put down, heavy things. It'll help you lose belly fat
2 Reduce sugar and ultra-processed foods
Sugar is one of the leading causes of belly fat. As we age and therefore exercise less, we have less need for sugar to fuel our activities. Sugar consumed but not used quickly is stored as fat.
The tricky thing here is that sugar is often hidden and disguised in other foods that are sold as healthy – ordinary sport nutrition, for example – while makes it much harder to cut out. All your can do here is be diligent, read the label and develop a better understanding of what’s going in your body.
Always opt for whole, natural foods and if the label of your food reads more like a chemistry set then it probably has a whole lot of nasties you don’t want to put in your body.
3 Do sprints once a week
As we age, we tend to become endurance junkies. After all, endurance can improve well into your 40s, 50s and perhaps even 60s (depending on your history) so it’s highly rewarding to do this kind of training and racing.
But while there’s definitely a place for low intensity endurance training, it’s throwing in sprints and other high intensity training that’ll really kick belly fat into touch. Sprint training really hoofs your metabolism into high gear and the number of calories you burn once you’ve finished your session remains high for anything up to 24 hours. High intensity training also contributes to growth hormone levels.
Once each week, move so fast you become a blur to anyone watching!
It’s worth remembering that your endurance performance will benefit from sprint training. The higher your all-out ceiling – whether that’s run sprint pace or sprint power on the bike – the higher your ‘easy’ pace will feel. For example, if your current sprint power is 400 watts and your easy power is 50% of this (200w), by raising your sprint power to 500w, you’ll ‘drag up’ your easy power to 250w.
4 Bump up your protein intake
The number of calories you burn at rest decreases as you age and this is largely due to muscle loss. Muscle is more energy demanding to maintain than fat, so ensuring you have good muscle mass is important to keep belly fat in check. The key macronutrient for muscle growth and preservation is protein
Protein is also a key macronutrient for recovery and thus training consistency. While you won’t be able to smash huge sessions like in your 20s, there’s no reason why you can’t hit consistent training day in, day out month on month. Diet is a huge factor in consistency and protein is key for muscle repair.
5 Don’t stress it
Upon studying the traits and habits of those living in Blue Zones – where an unusual proportion of the population reached 100 years old – there were some commonalities found amongst them all. When your read the 7 lessons from the world’s healthiest people, you’ll see they all don’t sweat the small stuff.
Reduce anxiety – it’ll shed fat and increase longevity
Stress produces cortisol which is a health and performance wrecking ball. Reduce cortisol and you’ll add years to your life.
6 Reduce inflammatory foods
That classic saying ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet’ is even truer once you reach 40. You can do all the exercise in the world but if your diet is not on-point then it won’t make a squat bit of difference when it comes to losing belly fat.
One major factor of this lies in the fact that inflammatory foods are the root cause of so many chronic diseases. It’s scary, but the beauty here is that it’s 100% in your control. Get your diet right and you can reduce inflammation significantly.
7 Go plant-based
A more plant-based approach to eating have a myriad of benefits. Here’s just a few reasons:
- Monounsaturated fat – common in plant-based foods such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butter have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, both of which are intricately linked to belly fat development.
- Pulses form a cornerstone of a plant-based diet. They include lentils, peas and chickpeas and provide a great source of fibre and protein, further regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. One study even showed regular pulses eaters enjoyed smaller waists
- A diet high in whole grains also reduces belly fat compared to refined grains. Whole grains reduce inflammation and are a good source of soluble fibre, which again is linked to reduced visceral fat
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