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Why Do People Get Belly Fat?

The reason why fat often seems to gravitate right to the waistline can vex you. Some women, especially those entering middle age, consider belly fat a natural part of the aging process. While a thickening waistline is associated with entering a different stage of life, other factors make you more likely to get belly fat as well.

About Belly Fat

More so than men, belly fat is a fact of life for many women entering middle age, according to Harvard Medical School. How much fat you gain -- and where -- is influenced not only by age, but also by family history, hormones and birth weight. Smaller babies are more likely to develop more belly fat as adults. Also, belly fat is more common in women who've given birth. The problem with belly fat is that it doesn't stop with the soft, cushy subcutaneous fat that you can see and touch. Belly fat has yet another layer called visceral fat -- the fat that puts you at risk for health complications.

Breaking It Down

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The fat that attacks your hips and thighs and gives you a pear-shaped figure is largely subcutaneous. However, the belly fat that gives your figure an apple-like shape is mostly visceral. Hormonal changes that take place during menopause also contribute to visceral belly fat. Even women with slender hips and thighs may notice visceral fat collecting around their waistlines as they enter this stage of their lives. This type of fat forms deep inside your abdomen, around your organs. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which can be thought of as a storage area for all of the calories you aren't using, visceral fat cells are biologically active, increasing your insulin resistance and putting you more at risk for certain health problems.

Associated Health Risks

Belly fat isn't pretty; nor is the prospect of buying clothing a size or two larger. However, this visceral fat isn't just an aesthetic problem. Belly fat is linked to several chronic conditions, including heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, dementia and breast and colorectal cancers. Women with a waistline that measures more than 35 inches are generally more at risk for these health-related problems. However, this rule may not apply if you have a large frame, says Harvard Medical School.

Trimming It Down

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Visceral fat is easily trimmed if you exercise. However, targeting belly fat with sit-ups and other abdominal exercises won't do the trick. These exercises simply tone your abdominal muscles. Harvard Medical School indicates that 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense exercise each day burns belly fat when coupled with a reduced-calorie diet comprised of healthy foods in appropriate portion sizes. Weight-loss medications may be helpful for people whose existing weight puts them at risk for health problems. Harvard indicates that sibutramine, a prescription appetite suppressant, battles visceral fat. Another newer drug, rimonabant, which is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, may also have modest effects on belly fat.

Fighting Belly Fat

More than half of Americans are overweight, a fact that Harvard Medical School describes as a "staggering statistic with tremendous health implications." Regardless of your age or gender, belly fat isn't just unattractive. Medical experts know that it can shorten your life. Don't accept belly fat as just another part of getting older. Start by making lifestyle changes -- namely, diet and exercise -- so you can make belly fat nothing but a memory.