15 Proven Ways to Lose Stubborn Belly Fat After 60
Experts reveal easy ways to blast fat when you are older.
Belly fat—aka visceral fat, that type of fat that accumulates around the midsection, nestled near vital organs like the liver and intestines—isn't just unsightly; it's dangerous, associated with a number of serious health conditions. Belly fat can seem easier to acquire, and harder to lose, after age 60, a time when it's even more risky, as it can prevent the body from fighting back against the heightened incidence of age-related disease. The good news: If you add some simple habits to your routine, you can slash belly fat, no matter what your age.
Dr. William Li, a bestselling author of Eat to Beat Your Diet, tells us, "There are different kinds of belly fat. One kind, called subcutaneous fat, is under the surface of your skin and easily visible. This is the "pinch-an-inch" kind of jiggly belly fat. It may not be pleasing to the eye, but it's a rather harmless type of fat. The other kind is visceral fat. This type of fat is buried deep inside your belly, stuffed like packing peanuts in a shipping box, and the fat wraps around your internal organs. A little bit of visceral fat is normal, but too much of it is very dangerous to your health because it throws your metabolism into chaos. If you have an expanding belly, you may have too much of both subcutaneous and visceral fat causing your belly to protrude."
Nancy Mitchell, a Registered Nurse with Assisted Living Center explains, "There is a direct relation between chronic stress and increased visceral fat. Increased stress hormones in the blood – especially cortisol – encourages fat storage in the abdomen. But visceral fat not only alters physical appearance: it can wreck your metabolism. Fat is the storage site for hormones; so the more fat stored in the abdomen, the more hormones available to be secreted into the bloodstream. This often causes hormonal imbalances and metabolic havoc in the long run."
"Losing weight gets harder as you age," says Dr. Hector Perez, a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon with Bariatric Journal. "That's because the metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body burns calories, naturally slows down as you get older. So while you may be able to lose weight more quickly in your teens or 20s, it's often harder to keep the weight off as you get older."
To blast belly fat, reach for some weights. A 2021 review of studies found that resistance training effectively reduces visceral fat in healthy adults. And it doesn't take a lot of time: According to a study published in The Korean Journal of Sports Medicine, overweight people who did stair-climbing intervals twice a day for five minutes without stopping lost an average of 7.3 pounds of body weight and 5.5 pounds of body fat in three weeks. (Other studies have found that increasing your exercise to 60 minutes a day can burn up to 30% of your belly fat over three months.)
Experts say that liquid calories are a major contributor to visceral fat. Sodas, juices, nut milks, energy drinks—anything which is sugar-sweetened, even the drinks you think are healthy, can pack on fat around your middle. Liquid sugar seems to accelerate the development of belly fat "by being quickly absorbed, spiking blood sugar, spiking insulin," says Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine physician with the Cleveland Clinic. "If you can do a single thing to dramatically improve your health, get rid of liquid sugar calories."
Simple carbs—like those found in highly processed foods and refined grains—are even worse when it comes to production of belly fat. "When you raise your blood sugar, you raise insulin. You raise insulin, you sweep all the fuel out of your bloodstream and throw it into your belly-fat cells," says Hyman. Your move: Swap refined grains and processed foods for a diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins.
Reduce your consumption of sugary foods, along with sugary drinks, and you'll likely see belly fat melt away. A 2020 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that eating too much sugar is associated with larger fat deposits around the heart and in the abdomen. "When we consume too much sugar, the excess is converted to fat and stored," said the study's lead author. "This fat tissue located around the heart and in the abdomen releases chemicals into the body which can be harmful to health. Our results support limiting added sugar intake."
In a multinational study of more than 137,000 people published last June in JAMA Network Open, researchers found that people who went to bed after 10pm had a 20% higher risk of being obese or having a large waistline. In people who regularly hit the hay between 2 and 6am, the risk was almost double. Scientists think late bedtimes might increase the production of stress hormones, which tell belly fat to hang around.
By the time you reach 50, you've already lost 10% of muscle mass, and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60, according to the American College of Sports Medicine—which is why strength training is so important. "Muscle is more metabolically active — it burns more calories than fat," says William Yancy Jr., MD, director of the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center in Durham, North Carolina. "So having a higher ratio of muscle to fat will mean you burn more energy — just while sitting. To build that muscle, you have to exercise, and that burns calories, too."
Research shows eating more protein can help with weight loss, experts say. "Aging muscles become less receptive to protein, but you can counteract these age-related changes by boosting your daily protein and making sure each meal contains 20-30g of high-quality protein (proteins that contain all the essential amino acids the body doesn't manufacture itself). These essential amino acids do things like repair body tissue and break down food," says dietitian and exercise physiologist Caitlin Reid. "For example, you'll find 30g of protein in 110g of cooked red meat. This amount of protein will provide enough essential amino acids to help you maintain, and over time increase muscle protein. Non-meat eaters can get protein through foods like dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat, lentils, sunflower and sesame seeds, tofu, soy protein, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, snow peas, kidney beans and watercress."
Dr. Perez says, "The best way to prevent gaining visceral fat as you age is to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Start incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet, and stop consuming processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive amounts of alcohol."
According to the Cleveland Clinic, "If you're feeling stressed out, your body is likely releasing the stress hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. While this can lead to weight gain, there's a strong link between an increase in cortisol and higher amounts of visceral fat."
The Cleveland Clinic says, "Research shows that if you're a heavy drinker, you may have more belly fat than social or casual drinkers. In addition to the extra calories you consume by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, alcohol can lower your inhibitions."
Scientific evidence has found that creatine can offset age-related muscle loss by restoring energy depletion and increase muscle mass when paired with exercise. You can mix it with water, juice, or tea.
Anything that gets you moving every day is great for keeping belly fat at bay. You don't need to join a gym or run for miles—just make sure you're getting exercise in a way that is fun and sustainable. "Exercise is key to weight loss and to maintaining that weight loss," says endocrinologist Bartolome Burguera, MD, Ph.D. "Generally, however, people who successfully lose weight and keep it off tend to be physically active — up to an hour per day. Engaging in some form of exercise three times per week is highly recommended."
If you're overweight or obese, losing weight can make a significant impact on your belly fat. "Weight loss is really the most important thing," says Dr. Klein. "You don't have to become lean, but losing a little bit of weight, even if you're still obese, can have important benefits if you can keep the weight off long term."
Don't use food in an attempt to alleviate stress, experts warn—it's bad for your belly. "It's not just a formula of calories in and calories out. What we eat and how much may determine our overall weight, but stress influences where that fat actually gets deposited on our body," says Elissa Epel, Ph.D. "We know that excessive exposure to cortisol can increase belly fat. So it's logical that stress reduction should minimize it."
Dr. Perez states, "Making these lifestyle changes can help to reduce your risk of developing visceral fat and improve your overall health as you age. However, it's important to talk with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet or exercise routine, especially if you have any medical conditions. This way, you can make sure that any changes you make are safe and appropriate for your individual health needs."